I was talking to an Aussie friend living in San Francisco, and he mentioned that of the holidays, he likes Thanksgiving more than Christmas as it has all the benefits without the downsides. In his opinion, Christmas might be about family, but family takes second place to presents. Thanksgiving doesn't have presents, only family. It was an interesting observation; one that makes sense, yet is more and more at odds with Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving may not have presents like Christmas, but it has shopping. Some times, I'm not sure if we are giving thanks for family or celebrating discounts. Our we purging our guilt about the origin of Thanksgiving or continuing our conquesting ways, this time of retail.
This year marks a cultural shift, technically the second year of a cultural shift, one where stores open on Thanksgiving. I hadn't heard about this until my wife mentioned that the Gap was open, and today I noticed an article in the LA Times, titled, "Retailers try to put positive spin on their creep into Thanksgiving."
According to the article, while many (employees and "purists") complained, vocally in many cases, 35 million Americans Thanksgiving shopped - offline and online. Stores might argue it makes sense to open early, especially given how late Thanksgiving falls, making the shopping season up to a week shorter than in the past.
For me, the shopping creep reminds me of Christmas. Growing-up, stores didn't open on Christmas. The ones open were movie theaters and ethnic restaurants, the latter realizing that some people don't celebrate the holiday and didn't mind capitalizing while offering value. The same went for movie theaters which provided a much needed outlet for those of us that weren't celebrating and had little entertainment options available.
The commercialization of Christmas happened slowly. Fifteen years ago was a step change from 25 years ago, and five years ago feels unrecognizable to the memories of yore. Movie theaters aren't just opened, but studios have made Christmas Day a major opening day. The commercialization has become more about looking out than looking in.
The commercialization of Thanksgiving is happening, but in many ways, it's very different than what happened to Christmas, mainly because the commerce side of Thanksgiving was separate from the holiday itself. It was more about timing. When I think of commercialization of the holidays, I'm not worried about stores being open. It's why they are open.
When the independent Chinese restaurant decided to stay open on Christmas, it was the epitome of the American spirit - ingenuity, problem solving, and a sense of why can't we, why should we just do things a certain way because that's how they've been done. That attitude only adds to the occasion.
What we have happening today is perhaps less the commercialization of the holidays and more the Hallmarkification of the holidays. They are being usurped and the very thing that has made America great - a capitalistic spirit has become the main player not the supporting character. Once commerce becomes the only thing rather than a catalyst for better things, we lose the greatness.
America is a commerce, media, and marketing culture. Facebook and Twitter are true platform evolutions, but they are valuable businesses only thanks to the advertising culture that exists. If we want to change it, we have to change it and take the holidays back. If we do that, we can reclaim our own independence and become stronger all while still enjoying the deals and excitement that comes with this time of year.
We can't separate the holidays and commerce, but we can make the commerce about the holiday and not the holiday about the commerce.