Consumerism overshadows Thanksgiving

By Lindsey Woods

It’s the middle of November and there are no sounds of turkeys gobbling—just sleigh bells ringing. There are no store windows displaying images of pilgrims sharing meals with Native Americans. Instead, there are only displays of Santa and his reindeer.

I guess it makes sense that in one of the most materialistic countries in the world, a holiday based around buying gifts would overshadow one meant to give us time to give thanks for what we have.

This year, stores such as Macy’s are opening their doors the second Thanksgiving is over. Some stores, like Wal-Mart, are even offering Black Friday discounts starting at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. And “holiday cheer” is starting way before the sales commence and stores open their doors to hungry consumers. You would think they would still be full from Thanksgiving dinner, but the truth is, the traditional turkey meal has become a passing thought on the road to the Christmas shopping season.

This seems to mimic the cultural priorities we embrace in America. In a Gallup poll taken in December 2010, immediately after the Christmas and Hanukkah seasons, 70 percent of Americans said religion was losing its influence on American life. This is curious, considering that Christmas and Hanukkah are religious holidays, and both seem to start their seasons earlier and earlier every year.

Obviously, both holidays have somewhat lost their original religious significance and in turn have become heavily reliant on sales and wrapping paper. In other words, they are becoming holidays based on consumerism.

Now, let me qualify this by saying that, for once, this isn’t the retailers’ fault. They are merely capitalizing on this shift in consumer behavior to pad their bottom lines, something that a good business should do. The fault lies in the hordes of people waiting to trample each other for a discounted Justin Bieber CD from Wal-Mart. The same people who will, according to the National Retail Federation, collectively spend $465.6 billion on holiday retail merchandise.

Thanksgiving, on the other hand, remains a holiday still surrounded by its original intent: taking one day to gather with the people we love and be thankful for the things that we have—and to eat a ludicrous amount of food. For college students who live out of state, it also marks the first break in the school/work continuum since summer, allowing travel time to see their families.

The only thing you spend money on during Thanksgiving weekend is food. There’s no worrying about whether your significant other will like the gift you spent so much money and time on, or if the wrapping paper you bought is fancy enough. The biggest worry is how big the turkey is, and how you’re going to stay awake for the football game after you eat all of it.

But people stay awake to go shopping on Black Friday every year. As soon as they’re done giving thanks for what they have, they rush off to buy other people things they don’t have. In fact, they’ll spend an average of $764 during the holiday season. Startling, considering that this October, 20.2 percent of Americans reported that they don’t have enough money to buy food for their families, according to another Gallup poll.

I’m not trying to hate on Christmas. I actually enjoy the holiday season, but we need to recognize it for what it is—a materialistic manifestation of the ever-growing consumerism-based culture of America. And the fact that this type of celebration overshadows its antithesis says a lot about who we have become as a society. Also, I just hate hearing Christmas carols for three months straight.

So enjoy waiting in long lines in the freezing cold and fighting strangers for toys on Black Friday. I’ll be sitting on the couch with a big plate of leftovers, enjoying the football game with my family, being thankful, warm and comfortable.