LLOYD GRAY: Clashing holiday messages

By Lloyd Gray

The holiday just past rests on the premise that contentment with what we have is a virtue. Be grateful, count your blessings and free yourself from anxious worry about what you don’t or can’t possess, goes the message of Thanksgiving.
It’s an awkward juxtaposition that just a few hours after the turkey leftovers are put away, many of us are off to the very antithesis of all that – joining the mobs of shoppers chasing the latest thing we or somebody close to us just can’t do without, elbowing others out of the way, literally or figuratively, in the process.
Gratitude for our abundance goes only so far. We feel compelled to add to it, to accumulate more.
This isn’t a diatribe against shopping or the commercialization of Christmas. This time of year is the key to success for most retailers, and the buying that goes on helps create and maintain jobs and businesses.
But it may be time to ask ourselves if Black Friday and its Black Thursday creep have spun out of control. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
Thanksgiving has suffered a gradual decline over time because of its eclipse by the Christmas shopping season. Many of us can still remember a time when Christmas decorations never went up until after Thanksgiving Day, which was allowed its own space before the pre-Christmas frenzy began.
While it may encourage the sin of gluttony, Thanksgiving is not an acquisitive holiday, which means its economic impact – except for grocery stores and the airline industry – is minimal. Thanksgiving for most people is about the warmth and glow of home and hearth and family, with a little football thrown in for some.
But Thanksgiving each year has been under increasingly more stress as the Christmas shopping season jumped over the fourth Thursday in November and raced back to the beginning of the month. And its cultural impact as a day designed to counter avarice and ingratitude has diminished under the Christmas barrage as well.
But until the last couple of years, Thanksgiving – one day, at least – has provided a respite before the fully accelerated onslaught of the countdown to Christmas. Now even that has changed.
Stores are now opening in the evening on Thanksgiving Day, some even earlier, for their Black Friday sales. Employees must involuntarily leave their families on Thanksgiving and be there to greet the hordes of shoppers who voluntarily leave their families at home, apparently convinced that whatever limited-supply item they get to first will fill them with the glow of happiness and contentment. Some are so determined that they will fight for it, literally, or create a scene they wouldn’t find flattering if they could watch themselves.
We can blame this on the merchants. But retailers respond to what the people want, and we have let them know that hours that would have been unheard of a few short years ago are now expected, even eagerly anticipated.
What does all of this say about us? It’s a question we should contemplate as the dust settles from the stampede.
Thanksgiving calls us in one direction – the notion of abundance, not the fear of scarcity – and what follows jerks us in a polar opposite way. When one department store chain’s decision to hold off opening until 6 a.m. Friday is heralded as a model of restraint, Thanksgiving’s contentment and the simple balance it extols seem little more than a bygone relic.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.