Since the early part of 20th century, Thanksgiving has been the unofficial the start of the holiday gift buying season. However, in 1939, Thanksgiving was to fall on November 30, allowing for a mere 24 days of shopping before Christmas.
This sent retailers into a panic. The presidents of Gimbels, Lord & Taylor and other giant department stores petitioned President Franklin Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving up so people would have an extra week to spend money. President Roosevelt obliged, thereby removing the little pretense left as to what Christmas was really about for too many people in our consumer-driven society.
All this came to mind as I watched my lovely wife go through the Thanksgiving Day ads in preparation for the annual Black Friday shopping spree. As parents of six children, we both appreciate the deeply discounted “doorbuster” deals that await you if you’re willing to get in line at 6 am the day after Thanksgiving. Yet the start of Black Friday no longer waits for Friday to actually begin. In many of our nation’s largest big box stores, the blockbuster sales start the evening of Thanksgiving itself.
Of course, Black Friday is only the beginning. The very next morning we launch into Small Business Saturday. On this day we are encouraged to “shop small” and spend our holiday dollars buying gifts at local small businesses in our own communities.
Not to be outdone, online vendors have created their own virtual shopping bonanza. The day after the Thanksgiving weekend has been dubbed Cyber Monday – a time for discounts on online merchandise. In fact this year’s Cyber Monday on November 26 was proclaimed as the single biggest day of online shopping in history. It’s grown so successful that some online stores are now trying to extend the online shopping frenzy by referring to it as an entire “Cyber Week.”
I don’t know if the drive to shop is somehow more pronounced this year than in times past, yet I cannot get beyond this uncomfortable feeling that with each passing year we’re losing what once made the holidays so special.
Goodness knows that I should be the last person in the world to lecture anyone on what it means to be a good Christian. But one of the things I always loved is that pervasive spirit of good cheer which is almost palpable this time of year. Most of us know it as the spirit of Christmas. Others feel it through the inspirational stories of Hanukkah. And even the most secular people I know exude a life affirming warmth as the weather grows cold.
There is something wonderfully poetic about the holiday season beginning with Thanksgiving, continuing through Christmas, and coming full circle with the start of a new year.
It starts with each of us considering the many blessings in our lives and giving thanks for what we have. Then in the spirit of giving, we share of our abundance with others. And finally we begin anew, resolving to be better people in the year ahead.
Yet somehow in the middle of all this, the spirit of giving has become so twisted and contorted that we’ve been indoctrinated with the idea that “shopping” is a synonym for “giving.” It’s almost as if there’s a new Christmas rule that whatever we give to our loved ones must be something that can be purchased in a big box retail store.
Yet instinctively we all know that the greatest treasures in our lives have little to do with the money and things we possess. And thus the greatest things we can give this holiday season are not things that can be purchased.
Now my children will certainly wake up on Christmas morning and fill our home with joyful noise as they see presents under the tree. My wife and I will do our share of shopping here in Door County, online, and yes, even at the occasional big box store. There is something truly magical about watching a child or loved one open a present from you.
But the true gift we share with our children is the time we spend together. It’s the kind word. It’s an unexpected hug. It’s the lessons we share with them on how to be good people.
With those lessons in mind we started a new Christmas tradition in our home a few years ago. We only buy token gifts for the adults in much of my family, if we buy anything at all. Instead, we make contributions in their honor to charities and causes that make our world a better place.
While we’re not members of his church, I suspect many of us in Door County belong to Pastor Michael Brecke’s congregation. He likes to say, “Give to your passion.” Be thankful for all the blessing you have, then give back to help those whose lives aren’t filled with as much abundance as yours. Then enter each new year resolved to be just a little bit better person than you were the year before.
Give thanks. Give Back. Then resolve to be a better person.
To me, that’s what the holidays should be about.
This column by Bret Bicoy originally appeared in the Peninsula Pulse on December 5, 2012.