The television clip of women brawling in a shopping mall on Thanksgiving Day is a commentary of this year’s winter holiday season. More than a few retailers opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day to get a few dollars more. Goggle-eyed shoppers hurried to get the early bargains, sacrificing the sanctity of the day in hopes of scoring a big discount. Already, the shopping malls and department stores are mobbed. Their parking lots are impassable as hordes of holiday shoppers descend like a pack of lemmings. Advertisements on television, newspapers and mailbox-choking flyers proclaim sales in hopes of separating customers from their dollars.
Whatever happened to a time when Thanksgiving was strictly a family holiday?
Who decided it was a good time to get out to the store and shop?
And for what?
It’s not just these holidays, either.
The other day, my wife gave her opinion on greeting cards. She said that the cards that children made in school with macaroni and traced hands had more meaning than those sold in gift shops. She is right. Children put their hearts into those little projects. The result may be sloppy or awkward, and their little slogans may seem trite. Nonetheless, those little handmade cards have more heart than buying a card with a design and a slogan contrived by a stranger. The store-bought card has someone else’s words and sentiments. There is not much heart in buying your heartfelt wishes from a card manufacturer.
There are cards for every occasion, all lined up in special racks with their color-coordinated envelopes. The variety is astounding. So is the price they ask for what is essentially printed cardstock. Inside are poems and notes carefully composed by professional writers. Nowadays, folks instinctively head for the card shelf whenever there is an occasion or event to celebrate. That seems a pretty hefty price to pay for something that usually ends up in the recycle bin a week later.
Valentine’s Day was a minor thing. Children made silly Valentine’s Day cards and a few chocolate shops sold special Valentine’s Day candy in heart-shaped boxes. Today it is an event that calls for store-bought cards and dreams of romance and cheap gifts and mushy sentiments.
They got Halloween, too. What had been a children’s event with trick-or-treating and bobbing for apples has become bigger and more expensive. As Valentine’s Day and Halloween grew, so did the amount of items sold for them. Half a century ago, we were content with cardboard posters of witches and black cats. Now the amount of decorating is astounding, as is the cost of costumes.
Have we as a people substituted store-bought sentiments and discount specials for affection? Are we equating love with something you buy for someone? Has the pricey gift taken the place of heartfelt caring?
It certainly looks that way.
Whose idea was this?
And how did it spread to non-holidays like Halloween and Valentine’s Day? How did the start of the winter holiday season expand from the weekend after Thanksgiving to the day after Halloween?
The winter holidays of Yule, Christmas and Hanukkah celebrate religious events. The season was one of celebration with loved ones. At the heart of the celebrations were sentiments that had naught to do with the accumulation of goods. One might not be able to discern this if he judged only from the current practices. Today, at the heart of things is money. The marketers want it. That is what Black Friday is all about. All of those gaudy decorations and other holiday-themed items are more ways to get people’s money.
Your money. Every holiday gee-gaw and greeting card and shopping spree separates you from your money. It all goes to the retailers and manufacturers and the folks they hire to advertise to you. As soon as the holiday is over, prices on all that stuff drop. By then, they already have your money and you are left paying the bills.
If you bought with a credit card, how long do you think you will be paying for your holiday spending spree? And if you add up the interest on the cards, how much did you really save? That is, if you saved anything at all. More than likely, most of what you saved on Black Friday you will pay to the folks who issued your credit cards.
And what did you accomplish with all that spending?
Did your gifts buy the everlasting love of those who received them? Did you get a bigger feeling of goodwill for the season? Was Yule more joyful? Was Christmas merrier? Was Hanukkah happier? Or did you get that same sinking feeling as last year when the bills came in? It’s your money, pal. Happy Holidays, indeed!
Let me take you back to a time when the holidays meant something different. Let us go back to a time when people did not buy greeting cards for every occasion. Back then, Halloween decorating was little more than a few cardboard witches and a jack-o-lantern. Bobbing for apples counted more than who had the most expensive costume.
Back then, the lights and decorations were not lit until the day after Thanksgiving. The same went for the shopping. Yuletide was celebrated only after Thanksgiving was over. Most of the pre-season advertising was confined to catalogs issued by a handful of catalog retailers. Granted that the children pored over those catalogs time and again, ruffling the pages of toys and more toys. Yet parents were not extravagant in those days. A child might get one large toy and a couple of smaller ones. Train sets and slot cars and army men playsets were the top choice for boys. Dolls and play kitchens and doll baby carriages were favorites for girls. Bicycles and roller skates were loved by both.
Gifts shared by adults were smaller and more personal. People considered the receiver when picking gifts. The need to spend more was alien to the holidays back then. Gifts for adults were small tokens of appreciation.
Advertisers pushed the toy market. Most of the advertisements for adults were for electric razors, perfumes and tacky colognes. The joke gift of the decade was “soap on a rope.” People were more interested in getting together with loved ones than counting up their plunder. Things were a far cry from the merchandising madness that rages today.
People enjoyed the holidays then. They bought less, spent less, and had a really good time. It calls to question: who decided that the only way you can enjoy your holidays is to spend more, give more extravagant gifts and fill your home with more tacky holiday trinkets? If you did not make the decision, who did?
Who really controls your wallet?
Who controls your wallet when you rush out on Thanksgiving Day to get a few bargains on things that are not even for you?
Who owns your pocketbook when you stand on line for hours to get the next new cellphone or home video game or other electronic gadget?
Who controls the purse strings when you rack up holiday bills on your credit card that won’t be paid off until next year? Or later?
Are the holidays a time for you to enjoy or are they a time for marketers to enjoy getting your money? And why do you willingly give it to them and put yourself in debt for another twelve months? What is the payoff for you?
More to the point, why are they getting the payoff while you foot the bill?
This holiday season started with a scene of several women brawling on the floor in a mall on Thanksgiving Day. It is a tragedy for our holiday traditions and a victory for greedy marketers and avaricious merchants.
Time to take back your wallet.
The marketers and merchants, retailers and manufacturers will balk at this message. They do not want you to think about reasonable spending. They do not care to put the meaning of the holiday first, especially if it means they get less of your money. You cannot rely on the media, either. The media does not want to offend its advertisers. That leaves it all up to you. The decision is yours. It is your money and you should be the one to decide, not them.