October 16, 2013
Once upon a time, in a land inhabited by people of many creeds and colors and shopping habits, there was a holiday beloved by all.
This day was called Thanksgiving.
On this special day, the people retreated from the getting and spending that consumed their ordinary hours, and, instead, they gathered with friends and family to give thanks for the bounty of their lives.
Love. Nature. Community. Freedom. Naps. Life itself.
These were the intangible things that on Thanksgiving the people recognized as the greatest gifts.
And even if they were really bored, as the people often were on this special day, and even if they kind of wished they could allay their existential dread by going out and buying some stuff, they were also glad they couldn't. They were grateful that there was a day, just one lazy day, dedicated to the proposition that the best things in life cannot be shoved into a shopping bag.
Yeah, well, that's ancient history.
At 8 p.m. this Thanksgiving, Macy's stores all around the country will throw their doors open to shoppers who haven't even had time to digest their turkey or tofu.
Macy's logic is the rationalization that drives bad behavior of all kinds: Others are doing it.
It's true that a few other retailers — Lord & Taylor, Sears, Target — have recently breached the ancient covenant between stores and consumers that forbids shopping on Thanksgiving. So what's one more?
One more is the nail in the coffin of Thanksgiving as we've known it.
In a country so often divided, we could reliably agree on Thanksgiving. It was a one-of-a-kind day, verging, in its nondenominational way, on sacred.
Pause. Eat. Say thank you.
That was the small demand Thanksgiving made, the huge opportunity it offered.
It was a quiet day, unless you count football blaring from the TV. Boring? Yes, oh yes, often deeply boring for everyone but the harried cook.
Nowhere to go. Nothing to do.
You might escape by taking a long walk, maybe go to the gym before it closed early or find a cafe that would be open for a few hours to accommodate people who absolutely had to get out of the house.
But no shopping until Friday, unless, in recent years, you could sneak away for a brief tryst with the Internet.
There was no law that said Thanksgiving had to be this way. No religious edict. Just an agreement among civilized folk: We'll all feel better if for this one day we aren't allowed the temptation to be our usual frenzied, acquisitive selves.
Now it's over.
Bet on it: This year it's Macy's. Next year there will be more stores. 8 p.m. will become 7 p.m. Then 6. Then noon.
The loss of Thanksgiving as a shopping-free day is disturbing for several reasons.
One reason is that the change is beyond our control. The retailers decide to open, and then it's done. They get to change Thanksgiving.
And shoppers will come. That's another reason the shift is troubling. People will leave their homes, get in their cars, be distracted by shopping lists. The ambient energy of the day will change. The deep quiet will vanish.
Someone at your Thanksgiving will insist on leaving before the dessert plates are cleared to be in line for the sales, to get a "head start" on the holidays.
And here's another cause for distress. You who protests this sacrilege? That early shopper may be you.
We're all vulnerable. Most of us anyway. That's the really scary part. Consumer creep is like kudzu.
How easy it will be to tell yourself that you're taking advantage of your "free time" to shop on the holiday. And as fast as you can swipe a credit card, the freedom of Thanksgiving will be forfeited.
If this vision of Thanksgivings to come sounds bleak, I present it with the best of intentions, as a cautionary tale.
We can't stop Macy's. But, even led into temptation, we can stop ourselves.
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