Acculturation and assimilation are the significant threads that weave the fabric of human progress. Our exposure to a new environment helps us to appreciate and understand the cultural nuances unique to that country. Thanksgiving was one of those festivals I was introduced to after I had landed in the United States in the early nineties
Tenderly embedded in the history of the nation is the story of the Pilgrims who sailed to Plymouth from England in search of religious freedom in 1620. They had observed a feast the following year to offer thanks for a good harvest that came after a year of hardships. Thereafter, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November every year.
Some call it the Turkey Day because along with cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, corn, and other delicacies, turkey is one of the major entrées that feature in the Thanksgiving meal. The folks at home have never shown any interest towards the big bird, so I have always settled for its younger relative, the chicken! But rather than the scrumptious meals that people rave about, what has held meaningful significance for me is the wonderful message behind Thanksgiving: we need to count our blessings and be thankful for what we have.
Thanksgiving festivity graced the United States 10 days ago. Five-year-old Mona sat with her parents and grandparents and in prayerful reverence happily sang, “Thank you Lord for the food we eat, thank you Lord for the friends we meet!” A little one’s innocent act paved the road for reflection. In all earnestness and sincerity, a prayer of gratitude stemmed from her heart. But as adults, how thankful are we really for all what we have? A nagging question that persists is whether consumerism has taken over and diminished the real spirit or sanctity of the holiday. It definitely has to quite an annoying degree!
It all has got to do with buying and selling. Even before Thanksgiving starts, people are bombarded with commercial messages. Earlier it was the day after, called “Black Friday”, when businesses opened in the wee hours of the morning, and shoppers rushed to get amazingly good deals in their favorite stores. Then the online equivalent Cyber Monday emerged in 2005 with retailers encouraging their customers to shop online. Now the shopping frenzy has escalated to a much higher level with many stores opening their doors on Thanksgiving day itself.
While entering a departmental store on a Monday evening prior to Thanksgiving, I could see a huge message through the glass windows: “Stores open at 5 pm on Thanksgiving Day”. This has been a pretty common sight in the recent past, and companies almost seem to be bragging and competing with each other by advertising about their Thursday special hours. The trend was set way back in 2010 when departmental chain Sears opened its branches on Thursday, and several others followed suit in subsequent years.
We all love to buy stuff at reasonable prices and look forward to seizing the maximum benefits of discounted offers that retailers provide. Businesses have precisely taken advantage of this mentality to boost their sales. The sad part is that traditions have been encroached upon with the early opening of stores. Families who would have otherwise spent quality time together now need to let go of someone who may have to work that day. Also, those totally obsessed with shopping hurriedly wrap up the family get-togethers to go on their shopping sprees. So rather than bonding with near and dear ones, the focus is on grabbing the smart deals.
The winds of commercialism have strongly swept today’s world. Buying and selling have taken the front seat and constitute the order of the day. There is hardly any breathing space. The moment Thanksgiving day is over, all thoughts are on how to maximize the lucrative sales that go on till Christmas time. E-commerce has simplified the situation even more. It is not necessary for people to rush to the crowded malls and stand in long lines to buy the things they need. Sitting in the comfort of their homes, they can order almost everything under the sun. A very interesting statistic revealed that 2018 marked an all-time high in Black Friday online sales, with revenue reaching $6.2 billion. This was a massive increase from the previous year.
Why should everything center around profit and loss? As much as it’s pivotal for a business to thrive and aim for economic excellence and for a consumer to shop intelligently, intangible things in life are equally important. Values and traditions that have been an integral part of a culture need to be kept alive. The refreshing news this year was when companies like Costco, Crate and Barrel, DSW, Publix, and a few others kept their stores closed on Thanksgiving to allow their employees to celebrate the day with family and friends.
A day that needs to be set aside for gratitude and thanks is hijacked by the marketing machine. Thanksgiving is not a case in isolation. What looms large during any major festival or holiday these days is a mad shopping bonanza. In the process, the true meaning behind the big day is lost. Yes, most people want to enjoy the thrill of a shopping experience, but can we not at least have one day for silent rumination, not succumb to materialism, and put the thanks back in Thanksgiving?