The Spirit of the Holiday?

By Judge David Langham

We pause this week to give thanks. As I sat to pen this piece, I asked myself for what am I thankful? That is easy to answer in so many personal ways. If I could channel the open-book frankness of David DePaolo, I would share all of those personal feelings. But, alas, I am instead both shy and private. For me, sharing of my non-professional life is exceedingly rare, and is not forthcoming today. As to why I am professionally thankful, instead of personally though, I will strive to express myself. But first, I digress in the spirit of the holiday.

The first Thanksgiving was in 1621, as the legend goes. According to the History Channel, “colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations.” That was almost 400 years ago, and perhaps the upcoming 400th celebration will require a commemoration that is exceptional? You know, perhaps for that particular anniversary the usual eight kinds of desert will be insufficient? 

Speaking of the holiday, I am entertained when people lament the “commercialization” of holidays. I have heard that for years about Thanksgiving and Christmas, and more recently about Halloween. Newser reported this year that “Thousands Want to Change Halloween’s Date.” It noted the long history of October 31 (purportedly established by Pope Gregory III, sometime around 731-741, maybe 1,287 years ago). Though supporters of changing Halloween “to the last Saturday of October,” cite convenience for parents and safety for kids (according to Good Housekeeping), critics (cynics) have asserted that this proposal, supported by the Halloween and Costume Organization, is merely aimed at further commercialization and sales. Cynical perhaps, but who knows for sure?  

Formality and recognition of America’s Thanksgiving was not immediate. Abraham Lincoln is said in 1863 to have “proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November,” meriting special historical mention. But he was not the first President to issue a Thanksgiving proclamation. That distinction and so many others go to George Washington. From our very beginning as a nation, a variety of Thanksgiving holidays emerged. The distinction of Lincoln is that his proclamation standardized a single national day: “the final Thursday in November.” His historical distinction in this regard is not the holiday, but the interstate consistency of it. 

Historians tell us that Franklin Roosevelt favored tweaking the scheduling, and in 1939 “moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales.” Perhaps in the spirit that is inspiring the current drive aimed at Halloween? Then, in the midst of World War II, a compromise was struck “making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.” That is how we got here. 

Well, that is how the feast got here, but the shopping? Well, History says that the tradition of “Black Friday” dates to sometime in the 1950s, but that it has really gained traction “sometime in the late 1980s.” And, “Since then, the one-day sales bonanza has morphed into a four-day event,” or even worse. I know people that plan their Thanksgiving around how they will prevail in the stores. Some put planning into their Friday that might make Ike ashamed of his preparation for D-Day. I don’t shop like they do, but I am glad they enjoy it. 

Consider that traditions are established, embellished, and sometimes even changed. Those changes may come through slow evolution of various perspectives, legislatively, or by proclamation. Those changes might be reaction to perceived shortcomings, such as the lack of uniformity attributed to Lincoln’s motivation. Or, the motivations may be harder to discern with certainty or even confidence. Is it possible that something as simple as Thanksgiving or Halloween, uniformity, consistency, might be a valid metaphor for the current national dissertations regarding American workers’ compensation?

Through slow evolution or dramatic events, change is likely inevitable. But, for every person urging change or even acquiescing, there is some old (me) stick-in-the-mud (me again) who perhaps laments it and strives to hold on to tradition. We might disfavor change instinctively. Or, we might merely be asking that as we are confronted with change, perhaps there is room to discuss what is praiseworthy, retention-worthy, in the old? 

So, I return to my metaphor. No, there should not be bacon in the sweet potatoes, there should be marshmallows. No, the turkey should not be fried, it should be baked within an inch of total loss of moisture (remember Chevy Chase cutting that bird that turned to dust?). No, there should not be dainty cranberries in sauce, there should be a loaf of cranberry jelly still in the shape of the can it came in (John Mellencamp might say “ain’t that America?”). Before there is feasting there should be an outstanding parade on television (on all three channels). When the feasting is over there should be football. The success of the day is aptly measured by many in avoiding the need for a stomach pump, but barely. 

Despite these strong holiday, menu, and activity opinions, it is fair to say they are not universal. There are surely other opinions, correspondingly strong. The debates and machinations are possibly a metaphor for this industry in which we find ourselves toiling. It too is permeated with strong opinions, regional distinctions, and perceived shortcomings. At a recent meeting, I and others politely listened to an “expert” expound. When the expert finished and departed, a fellow listener inquired (essentially) “what on earth is he thinking?” That listener was utterly unimpressed and unpersuaded, but had listened patiently nonetheless.

As an industry, we must thus remember there are those who dread change, and others that welcome it. There are advocates and cynics. There are interests and considerations; some altruistic, others base, and some indecipherable. People all have perspectives, experiences, enthusiasms, doubts, fears, hopes, and aspirations. And in the end, that is all that workers’ compensation is about. No, not this (or any) list of what people “have,” but simply “people.” At the end of the day, the only thing of real value in this industry is people. 

As I have written this post and struggled with how to give voice to my 2018 professional Thanksgiving conclusions, I find myself returning simply to the people. That is not to say that there are not some people we could perhaps get along without (“prescribing unnecessary controlled substances,” “committing health care fraud,” manipulating process to “introduce greed into the doctor-patient relationship,” etc.), there are. But, there are a great many people in this industry that I am proud to know, privileged to call friend, and honored to be associated with. I disagree with each of them periodically. There are likely a few that we might never agree with. However, they challenge us, they generate discourse, and though they are sorely misguided in their opinions (joking), they really do genuinely care.

I recognize that we are each flawed and human. But, as I prepare for yet another excellent parade, Thanksgiving feast, and football, professionally I am deeply grateful for you all. I hope that you, in turn, are able to be thankful for those you work for, with, and even against. We are indeed lucky for our industry, our camaraderie, and our differences. Be well, be thankful, and be you. 


  1. Judge David Langham Blessed Thanks Giving to you and your family:
    I would also like to channel David DePaolo; however there will only ever be one David D; I will always be grateful and exceedingly thankful for David D being in my life.


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