Thanksgiving is less than four weeks away, but I’m not sure anyone has noticed. On the whole, Americans have long since forsaken the idea of a Thanksgiving season. Tomorrow is Halloween, and the Hallmark Channel officially begins its “Countdown to Christmas” movie schedule the very same night. (If you’re disinclined to watch something spooky, you can go ahead and shift into mistletoe mode by watching A Princess for Christmas or Hitched for the Holidays.) In sum, we now pretty much transition directly from the Halloween “season” to the Christmas season, and Thanksgiving Day itself has become more and more the equivalent of “Black Friday Eve.”
Even that’s not strictly correct anymore, as fewer and fewer national chains are waiting till Friday morning to open their doors. In a move that’s all too likely a portent of things to come, K-Mart recently announced that it will open at 6:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning and remain open for the next forty-two consecutive hours. In a masterpiece of Orwellian doublespeak, a senior executive for the corporation presented its blatantly opportunistic initiative as a disinterested expression of holiday spirit. “This holiday season is all about giving,” vice-president Leena Munjal rhapsodized, and “because many [customers] like to start shopping well before Black Friday, we’re excited to open our doors early on Thanksgiving and offer other early access opportunities for them to shop and save.” How generous. Munjal went on to thank the corporations’ thousands of minimum-wage “seasonal associates” who have “volunteered” to share part of their Thanksgiving serving this worthy cause. I hope none of them gets trampled to death.
Not all the Thanksgiving reports are depressing, however. Costco and Nordstrom have both announced that they will not open on Thanksgiving, and REI has gone even further in the right direction. Not only will the sporting goods and outdoor gear retailer be closed on Thanksgiving; earlier this week the company stunned the business world by announcing that it will be giving its employees a paid day off on Black Friday as well and is encouraging them to spend the day outdoors instead of at the mall.
Good for REI. Americans have not celebrated Thanksgiving primarily as a religious holiday for more than a century and a half. The first Thanksgiving Day college football game took place during Reconstruction, for goodness sake, and even as early as the Civil War religious writers were lamenting the secularization of the holiday. But while Americans in large numbers by the late-19th century were celebrating Thanksgiving by attending sporting events, dances, and plays, the day was still remarkably free of commercialism, much less the frenzied consumerism that now threatens to overwhelm it. I can’t speak to REI’s motives, but this looks like a welcome step in a healthy direction.
Just in case you’re like me and resent the way that we are now skipping over Thanksgiving entirely in our rush to open the Christmas shopping season, might I suggest that you read the following book as a good way to fight back against the craziness?
OK, so this will undoubtedly appear as an act of Shameless Self-Promotion, but in all honesty, I wrote The First Thanksgiving in response to a sense of calling to be in conversation with the church about what it means to think Christianly about the past. If that is something that you aspire to, consider picking it up or ordering it from Amazon. If you would like to read a brief review of the book before forking over nearly $14 to add it to your library, Christian historian Jay Case of Malone University has written a wonderful synopsis on his blog, “The Circuit Reader,” and you can link to it here.