Friday, November 29, 2013

The Annexation of Thanksgiving

So, I've been doing my share of reading over the last few months. From afar, I found out at some point that many big name department stores were opening their doors on Thanksgiving at or around dinner time. I read the criticism, the hate mail, even the praise and excitement for the exciting deals that were to be had on this shopping holiday-come-early. But overall, widespread anger and contempt permeated the online literature, with scathing criticism towards the greedy and profit-driven maniacs that would make a decision that would not only impose on our sacred, altruistic Thanksgiving "family time," but would force their good-natured employees to be stuck at work instead of at dinner with their families. This criticism is fair; it is a tragic assertion of power and profit to impose on such a holiday. But, there's an underlying theme that I keep noticing in all of the criticism that I have heard and read over the last few weeks. It is that "they" are the problem. Big-business and greedy CEOs and heatless corporations are the ones that are attacking American values and the holy sacrament of family. It's "them." It's not us.

And, let's call it what it is. Consumerism ruins things like Thanksgiving. There is no money to be made (except for within the grocery industry) off of a holiday whose practice is gathering around the dinner table and spending time with people we love. It's not very lucrative. In contrast to Christmas, which is the mother of all mercantile opportunity, it has no real capacity to generate substantial income. Family time, shared experiences, expressions of love, etc., are all wonderful and essential elements of the human experience. The time that we commit to Thanksgiving is an important and meaningful investment whose return is the gift of sanity and a sense of belonging. It's a beautiful thing. But, as was said before, it is also an entirely unprofitable thing. And, because of it's unprofitability, it is inevitably going to be slowly muscled out of the picture over time by the profit juggernaut that is Christmas. It is tragic but inevitable. 

This Thanksgiving was the culmination of years and years of attrition. Since the early 1900's the official start of the shopping season has crept up further and further into Thanksgiving. This year, the stores went a tad bit further and opened their doors on Thanksgiving evening, several as early as 5 pm. That's how it seems to go, though. It's always order to chaos, life to death, altruism to selfishness. It's a slow process from light to darkness, but darkness always comes. Thanksgiving was always going to be engulfed in the consumerism of Christmas. There was never any hope.

Of course, this absence of staying power of a holiday that is centered around virtues like gratitude, love, and family is disheartening to say the least. It's tragic, really. What hope does virtue have if our most treasured virtue-centered holidays can be phased out over time? And so we take to the internets, clamoring and complaining about the unbelievable atrocities that these greedy and selfish businesses could dare to commit. How could "they" be so heartless? How could "they" be so careless? How could "they" destroy one of our most treasured holidays? Throw "them" in prison. Tar and Feather "them." Make "them" suffer for their terrible crimes. They, they, they.

But, that's the thing. 

It's easy to blame "them" for the disappearance of Thanksgiving. It's easy to point at the altered business hours and condemn the decision makers as the reason that Americans will be rushing out of the door at 6 pm, leaving their plates of unfinished food and their neglected families behind to go shopping. But, we must take a closer look. We must try and see beyond the easiest justification for our dissatisfaction. 

Capitalism works on the simplest of pretense: supply and demand. The supply is determined by the demand. If there is enough of a market for a product or service, then that product or service will inevitably be provided. There is no mystery to this process. And, what is being widely criticized this Thanksgiving is nothing more than a service met to meet a demand. And it's you and me that is demanding it.

These business began to open on Black Friday decades ago because we were there, standing in line at their front door. They began to open at midnight because we were there, standing in line at their front door. They began to open on Thanksgiving a few years ago because we were there, standing in line at their front door. They will be open next year and in the years to become, earlier and earlier because we will be there, standing in line at their front door. The problem isn't "them." It's us. It's me. It's you. It's a society that is so completely sold out to consumerism and consumption that it will abandon it's virtues; it's family and fellowship, for the prospect of saving money on unnecessary products. It's a society that buys into the idea that money is love, and that the only appropriate expression of love on Christmas is to purchase more than we can afford for other people. That is the problem. It is time that we take responsibility for our actions, that we accept the truth; that we are the problem. I am the problem. You are the problem. Only when we see our culpability in our culture's self-degeneration can we realize the incredible power that we have. Because, when we take responsibility, we understand that we have a choice. We can choose not to go shopping on Thanksgiving. We can choose to use our words and our actions to express love instead of opening our wallets. Once we embrace that idea; that consumerism is a lie and that lasting joy does not come from what we purchase, those lines outside of Target will be shorter and shorter from one Thanksgiving afternoon to the next. Only then will businesses start to decide to push back their opening hours. Because for them, it has nothing to do with sentiment or reverence. It has everything to do with whether or not they will make a profit. If we start to take responsibility, and choose not to buy into the lie of our false-Christmas, there will be less and less profit to be made. We can take back Thanksgiving. Hell, we can even take back Christmas. But, it won't be done by complaining or by hate mail. It will be done by love and values and responsibility. 

(And, if you are not the one standing in line outside of Target on Thanksgiving, that's good. Teach your children. Embrace the truth that love is not a monetary value, it is service and sacrifice and open arms and tears and time. Give with all of your heart.)

 It's a long process, but it has to start with you and with me. Let's rise to the occasion.

Thanksgiving deserves it.