Thursday, November 22, 2007

Is Thanksgiving in Danger of Extinction?

My brother has worked in retail for some time. He told me recently how a customer came into his store looking for Thanksgiving decorations. My brother had to tell him that they didn't have any. This sparked a conversation between my brother and the customer on how stores don't have Thanksgiving decorations as they once did. Growing up I can remember the turkeys with crepe paper tails and the cutouts of pilgrims. My brother's theory is simply that stores starting putting out their Christmas decorations earlier and earlier until eventually there was no room left for Thanksgiving decorations.

Indeed, the past several years I know many stores have their Yuletide decorations up was early as August. By November those Yuletide decorations will occupy centre stage in most stores. On November 1 our local WalMart removed the Halloween decorations and good, put up a Christmas tree at the store's opening, and put out their various Yuletide goods. That is not the end of it, either. I saw holiday oriented ads as early as November 1--the day after Halloween. Target already had Yuletide commercials as early as that day. In a few days other advertisers followed suit.

That brings us to today, Thanksgiving. Yuletide themed adverts occupy much of TV's commercial air time. As it has for the past few years, NBC aired Miracle on 34th Street this afternoon. Encore is showing The Nightmare Before Christmas (forgiveable--not only is it a great film, but it is as much a Halloween movie as a Christmas movie). FX is showing Christmas with the Kranks and Home Alone. On television it would seem that today there are more references to the Yuletide than there is to Thanksgiving, even though Thanksgiving is today.

This bring me to something of which I have written before in this blog. Namely, I believe that Thanksgiving is in danger of losing its own identity. With each passing year, as stores put out their holiday ware earlier and earlier, as advertising start running holiday themed adverts earlier and earlier, Thanksgiving is becoming little more than an extension of "Christmas time." Quite simply, it seems to me that Thanksgiving is ceasing to be its own holiday and merely becoming the start of the holiday season. That Thanksgiving decorations apparently disappeared from store shelves long ago would seem to confirm this fact.

It hasn't always been this way. In fact, there was a time, before department store established the holiday shopping season in the late 19th and early twentieth centuries, when the earliest one would see anything dealing with Christmas would be December. In those days Thanksgiving was its own holiday with its own customs and its own trappings. One would not have dreamed of putting up one's Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving or even a few days later. Indeed, until the 19th century the traditional Yuletide was the Twelve Days of Christmas familiar from the old carol--the eve of December 24th to to the morning of January 6. The Twelve Days of Christmas were positively ancient, existing before there even was a Christmas. The custom of celebrating for twelve days was apparently inherited from the Germanic pagan festival called in Old English Geol and in Old Norse J&ocacute;l.

All of this would change with the late 19th century and early 20th century when American merchants, seeing the money that could be made from selling Christmas gifts, decided that the day after Thanksgiving (now called Black Friday) should be the start of the holiday shopping season. The American holiday shopping season was well established by 1924 when Macy's held its first parade on Thanksgiving. Although held on Thanksgiving, that first parade was then called Macy's Christmas Parade. And then as now, the parade ended with the arrival of Santa Claus at the Macy's store at Herald's Square. By 1939 the holiday shopping season beginning the day after Thanksgiving was so well established that Franklin Roosevelt, caving into pressure from merchants, moved Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the next to the last Thursday of November to allow for a longer shopping season. Public pressure forced the President to move the holiday back to its traditional date. Regardless, as time has passed the holiday shopping season has become conflated with the holiday season itself. And in the process it seems to me that Thanksgiving is being absorbed into the Christmas season.

I find this regrettable myself. As I said yesterday, I do have mixed feelings about Thanksgiving. I don't care much for the history behind many of the holiday's trappings (Pilgrims, early thanksgiving observances held to celebrate victories over Native Americans, et. al.). In the end, however, I do enjoy eating turkey and pumpkin pie. And more importantly, I think it is important for entire nations to set aside one day a year for individuals to give thanks to whatever gods they may worship. After all, in expressing gratitude one must consider everything that is positive or everything that is good in one's life. Giving thanks can then act as an affirmation of all that is positive in life. In this world where bad news is to be had in every television newscast and every newspaper, where we often focus on those things which make us unhappy, where we often let stress get the best of us, affirming that which is good in our lives is perhaps more necessary than it ever was before. While I don't like many of the holiday's trappings, I can then see a need for Thanksgiving.

I then find it very regrettable that Thanksgiving is losing its identity and simply becoming part of the Yuletide, which itself has been divorced from its traditional period of celebration. I love the Yuletide--it is my favourite holiday--but I have no which to see it overwhelm Thanksgiving. After all, I think we have a need for a day for giving thanks, and that day should be celebrated as its very own holiday.

1 comment:

Princess Haiku said...

I agree with you about setting a day aside for gratitude. This year they started the shopping season on Thanksgiving day. I guess people were suppose to wolf down their meals and leave their families to go shopping at Walmarts. Crazy making.