Selling Thanksgiving

Norman-Rockwell-thanksgiving use

An article in our local paper’s Sunday Business Section both fascinated and sent a few chills up my spine at how effectively today’s marketeers can sell proverbial ice cubes to Eskimos.  They have persuaded large numbers of us to give up Thanksgiving as a day of gratitude for what we have, in favor of the chance to go buy more.

No one needs to wait for Black Friday now.  Major retailers will open their doors at 8:00 on Thanksgiving night, while Kmart’s shopping day will begin at 6:00 in the morning.  People like it and want it, the article says, but it’s instructive to look at the language used:

“The ever-earlier shopping frenzy is a source of dismay for traditionalists who view Thanksgiving more in terms of Norman Rockwell’s famous 1943 “Freedom from Want” painting…They ask: Isn’t the pace of life hectic enough without cutting into a day established for humble gratitude and quiet reflection?”

Is it just me or do you see a bias here?  Some implication that the traditional, quiet reflecting crowd, stuck in 1943, will probably spend the day watching reruns of “The Waltons.”

American Gothic by Grant Wood.  Public Domain

American Gothic by Grant Wood. Public Domain

The most interesting reason the article gave for jumping up from the table to hit the stores came from a “random” shopper at one of our malls, who said, “It’s fun, like a shared adventure for me and my friends.  We love it.”  An adventure is “an unusual, stirring experience,” according to Webster’s Dictionary, which isn’t what I equate with a trip to the mall, but hey, we all know Thanksgiving can be a chore.  

Millions of us have had the experience of traveling “home for the holidays,” only to remember exactly why we left in the first place.  And traditional Turkey Day roles still split along gender lines – who hasn’t heard women complain about working for hours preparing a meal, only to have the men snarf it down in 20 minutes, then pass out from tryptophans and beer in front of a football game?  From that perspective, a trip to the mall with friends might be, if not “an unusual, stirring experience,” at least a refreshing break.

Times are hard, and I can’t fault anyone for the Thanksgiving choices they make, but I do suggest a bit of reflection.  Many who read this blog are writers, and one of the best pieces of advice for writers is to create a mission statement; among all the choices I have now, what do I want from writing?  That’s a good question to ask as we face the holiday season.

Most of us long for peace and serenity, and a time of shared warmth in a community of family and friends.  Nobody wants to wake up on New Year’s Day saying, “Thank God all that is over,” though many will.  It’s a good time to review holiday options and “obligations” in light of the Dr. Phil question, “How does that work for you?”  

I’m no saint when it comes to keeping Thanksgiving “pure.”  For a number of years, when Tower Books was open, Mary and I and friends from work would gather for Thanksgiving dinner, then go browse Tower for an hour before having coffee and pumpkin pie.  Though we didn’t suspect it at the time, we may have been having a shared adventure.  So let’s admit that we’re free to spend Thanksgiving however we wish.  

It just saddens me to see corporate interests breech a once inviolate day, and turn it into an “ersatz” holiday, like Labor Day, stripped of all its original meaning and existing only so people can buy many things that they don’t really need.