This Thanksgiving, pass the gravy, but pass on passing judgment

We are a nation divided — and not just about our politics.

Today we are split — torn asunder, like a metaphorical drumstick — on a day that brings so many of us together for camaraderie and calories.

I speak not of Thanksgiving itself. For one dinner, we are neither red nor blue. We have our dark meat or white meat preferences, sure, but at least here we are a people of shared purpose, recognizing that we need the other guy to help power through the platter before us.

No, I speak of what will come after Thanksgiving. Black Thursday, the inevitable offshoot of Black Friday. The Thanksgiving night jump on the Christmas season shopping binge has become a referendum on values.

A battle between the non-shoppers — those noble protectors of Thanksgiving and its sanctity — and those crass customers who can’t give the debit card even one day’s rest.

No pun intended, but I’m not buying. It’s not that simple, because people aren’t that simple.

I’m willing to believe that some people will shop Friday, or Thursday, for perfectly valid reasons that are absolutely not any of my business.

Perhaps they do it because they really enjoy the hubbub and the competitiveness. The holiday retail crush becomes a happening, a family adventure, a bonding experience. I don’t see it, but neither do I see the harm in it.

Perhaps they do it because they have busy work schedules of their own, and the long holiday weekend is the best, most convenient time to shop.

Or perhaps they do it because the sale prices are really the only way to afford items on their families’ wish lists. If that’s the motivation, I can’t begrudge it.

I know of what I speak. Last Thanksgiving, I got my first and final taste of Black Thursday.

I wasn’t really shopping for anything, and while I wish I could say I was there in the interest of journalistic research, that wouldn’t be accurate. I got talked into coming along and providing backup. Such things happen because, truth be told, I’m taller than I appear in my mugshot.

The Thanksgiving night shopping safari took us to a crowded Wal-Mart, too late for the sale items, but just in time to get engulfed in a quicksand of consumerism. Crammed aisles and cranky shoppers. At some point there was a profane altercation over a sale item. In the fracas, contents of a can of energy drink were splashed indiscriminately — and given the existing state of general agitation, I was actually mildly relieved that some of the beverage landed, unconsumed, on my coat.

Yes, it was ugly. Having experienced Black Thursday once, and having survived the Mordor of merchandise, I consider myself covered for life. But I just can’t worked up about other people’s decisions that do me no harm.

Shop Thursday. Or Friday.

Or don’t.

But don’t judge.

It is, of course, judgmental to say we shouldn’t judge our shopping or non-shopping friends and neighbors. But no aroma of stuffing and sweet potatoes can mask the whiff of moral indignation that I sense from the “Boycott Black Thursday” backlash.

No, the pilgrims probably couldn’t have envisioned us, centuries later, pushing back from the feast to scarf up a killer deal on a flat screen. (The pilgrims probably couldn’t have envisioned the Detroit Lions either, or at least I hope not.) The point is, holidays evolve, and that doesn’t necessarily kill their spirit. Using a holiday as one more excuse to claim superiority seems, somehow, to sap the day of some of its pleasure.

Maybe it is an offshoot of our divided nature — divisions that aren’t restricted to our politics. When we’re predisposed to disagree, Black Thursday provides one more flashpoint.

But where I appreciate and celebrate a healthy and heated exchange of opinions on politics, I’m enough of a sentimental softie that I hate to see us argue about celebrations.

I love Christmas, but I don’t look forward to another round of the overwrought culture clash over “Merry Christmas” and “happy holidays.” (When I have doubt about someone’s religious beliefs, I extend wishes for happy holidays — without malice aforethought.)

I also love Thanksgiving — but I think people should show their appreciation for the day in the manner they see fit. If that involves a shopping trip Thursday night, enjoy. But please don’t ask me to tag along.