Stop the War on Thanksgiving

War on Thanksgiving

For years I have been hearing about the “War on Christmas.” This bloodless war, whose primary weapon seems to be the phrase “Happy Holidays,” apparently threatens the spirit and soul of Christmas and Christians by recognizing that one fifth of the US population and over two thirds of the world’s population do not celebrate Christmas.  I was never worried about this war because it seemed that Christmas and Christians were doing just fine.

I am however, worried about Thanksgiving. Because folks, there is a War on Thanksgiving. Oddly enough, its chief combatant is Christmas, or more accurately, the retailers who seek to make Christmas shopping a year round activity.

I must divulge a little background. I love Thanksgiving. I always have. I love the smells of Thanksgiving, as the crisp air of Autumn shifts almost imperceptibly to the chill of Winter. I love the food and the decorations: cornucopias filled with autumnal gourds, the reds, browns, yellows and golds of fall foliage, the cinnamon and nutmeg of pumpkin pie and hot apple cider and the savory goodness of stuffing, turkey and gravy. I love the gathering of friends and family. I love our ritual of going around the table and saying what we are thankful for this year.

Thanksgiving is the one time of year in which I embrace my inner Martha Stewart, decorating the house with gourds and children’s seasonal crafts.But over the past several years I have had difficulty engaging in my seasonal ritual. Because whereas in my childhood, retail Christmas fervor did not take over until the day after Thanksgiving, today stores hardly wait until after labor day to begin the madness and by the day after Halloween, Christmas season has begun its assault.

The primary casualty of this Christmas Creep (aside from our wallets and our bleeding ears as the grating strains of “jingle bells” and “I’ll be home for Christmas” play on a loop for over 2 months) is Thanksgiving itself.

The War on Thanksgiving started in the retail setting. I began to notice over the past ten years that it was increasingly difficult to indulge my Thanksgiving decorating tendencies. Retailers began to push aside my cornucopia and autumnal colors for the ubiquitous red and green. Oddly cheerful turkeys gave way to Santas and menacing elves and our secular holiday of giving thanks was shunted aside for Christmas.

But the combatants in the War on Thanksgiving were not content with their expulsion of Thanksgiving from the retail arena. Bent on complete domination, they set out to banish Thanksgiving from our homes and our lives. Retailers like Walmart, Kmart, Staples, Sears, J.C. Penny, Best Buy, Toys R Us, Macy’s and countless malls across America have begun opening their stores on Thanksgiving itself.

These retailers make their low wage employees give up one of the only days they have off with family to wage the War on Thanksgiving. These employees must abandon their families and their one day off together to feed retailers’ insatiable desire for profit. And we as consumers are asked to abandon our festive tables, friends and families to brave the crowds of shoppers looking for that elusive bargain.

I cannot tell you how sad this makes me. Thanksgiving is literally a holiday about giving thanks. It is a holiday that welcomes all Americans (though Native Americans may have some misgivings on this) regardless of religion. It is a holiday that celebrates home and hearth and asks us to be grateful for that which we have.

The message of the actual holiday of Christmas may not be far off. But the religious Christmas of December 25th is not the one currently being celebrated in malls across America. Retail Christmas demands you spend what you do not have and indulge in unmitigated greed. Retail Christmas tells you there is never enough and that you should only be thankful when people bring you more.

This year I will celebrate Thanksgiving. I will be thankful for all the good things in my life, very few of which were purchased in a store. In protest, I will not shop on Black Friday and this season I will only buy from retailers who do not open on Thanksgiving Day.

I will fight for Thanksgiving. I will stand with those who are fighting against the War on Thanksgiving. Join me.

The Pros and Cons of the Curated Life

As a Communication professor, I often give my students an assignment that they have dubbed the “cyber stalking” assignment.  I ask them to choose a friend and find out as much as they can about that individual online.  I tell them to use a critical eye, as if they were a future employer.  What do they see? What are the implications of every photo, every comment, every update?  All of it communicates something about the individual.

After this assignment, my students are invariably shocked at the picture that has emerged and I then urge them to scrub their own digital presence (no more photos holding red plastic cups!).  I explain that the internet has become a log of our lives, an addendum to every cover letter and resume we send out, an attachment to every performance review at work.  I stress the importance of curating your online presence.

But lately I have begun to see the downside of a curated life.  All those students and friends who have taken to heart such warnings now present themselves well online.  They post beautifully constructed facades of vacations, achievements, happy accomplished children and the results are, well, isolating.

For many of us with friends scattered around the country and the world, social networking sites (and even the holiday newsletter) are the primary way that we learn about each other’s lives.  But what we learn from the curated life is only half the story.

The child who starred in the dance recital or won MVP in little league or came in first at the spelling bee, also has meltdowns over homework, suffers from anxiety attacks, talks back and slams doors, is bullied or is a bully. The friend with the great promotion works 80 hour weeks and hasn’t seen her friends or spouse for dinner in 6 months.  The college friend who always looks so cheerful in her photos is deeply depressed over losing her job, but is too ashamed to post it.   But to read the updates you would never know.

The result of this is that it makes it harder for everyone to talk honestly about the meltdowns, anxiety attacks, conflicts, bullying, the challenges of working, living, and parenting.  The result is that we are all left alone to cope.  Coping is especially hard when we believe we are the only ones.

The curated life turns each of us into our own PR agents.  We may look great on the screen, but the process leaves us little room to be real.

The answer may not be to stop curating, but to pick up the phone, or better yet, meet in person.  Call a friend and tell them what’s really going on.  When you are with others, be real about what is going on in your home.  More often than not, the other person will feel relieved and open up about their challenges as well.