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Thanksgiving Weekend: the annual marketing nightmare


Published: Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 11:01

Hi, welcome to Starbucks, what can I get for you?”

[Enter me, sitting in my car with a sheepish grin] “May I please have a breve latte...”

I drove away from the drive-thru with the worst sense of guilt. It was one of those moments where you realize, with Bill and Ted clarity, that you are part of the problem! It’s a bad feeling, but one that needs addressing. My latte-induced shame spiral was related to my pre-Thanksgiving decision to boycott all businesses open for the holiday, and here I was in the drive-thru, getting a fix.

For me, and others with family in a different part of the country, Thanksgiving is a welcomed reprieve from the busy work-school routine. Finding out I had the day off from work was like a double whammy of holiday goodness. Given that my family is in Texas, Thanksgiving is more of a school break for me, so it completely slipped my mind that everyone manning a store on the holiday probably did not choose to be there. It feels very wrong to me that, as a country, we have decided some people should work on a holiday and some should not; particularly on those holidays vomiting goodwill sentiments at every corner.

Every year around Thanksgiving, I get groan-inducing images of hand-drawn turkeys, ridiculous puritan hats and muskets, Norman Rockwell’s perfectly painted turkey and those awful huge-buckled “pilgrim” shoes stuck in my head. If I watched TV more, I would be accosted with images of women simplifying their Thanksgiving Day feast with powdered gravy and canned pumpkin pie filling.

Unlike Christmas, Thanksgiving could be a marketing nightmare. This is essentially a feel-good holiday that, however imperialistic in origin, centers on something healthier than mass consumerism - family and thankfulness. Perhaps in the 1600s we were thankful for the Native Americans’ help in our (finally) good harvest. In 2013, we can be thankful for our football games (insert Husker football reference)...and powdered gravy?
But as newer generations have begun criticizing the often dubious origins of some of our national holidays (I’m looking at you, Columbus Day), we are looking for ways to reinvent holidays in a meaningful way that represents our understanding of the past. It’s not that Thanksgiving needs to be thrown out, but that it needs to be reclaimed. We are no longer enchanted by images of frilly lace cravats and dried corn husk center pieces. And for all that is good in this world, please no more spray-tanned “Native Americans.”

You may argue, but this is America! People have a right to not celebrate a holiday! That is also true. But something--call it former retail work--tells me the manager-employee conversation probably sounded more like, “Here’s the schedule for this week, thanks.” Anyone who has had to work on a holiday has experienced the inevitable upset of the regular traditions. Suddenly you are the reason your grandparents have to serve a cold turkey! And while rearranging family schedules is not the end of the world, it certainly is contradictory to the purpose of the holiday.

It only makes sense that a holiday about gratitude should be free of retail employees trying to work around their crazy schedules, so I have the luxury of getting a latte on the holiday.

As we reinvent and personalize our American traditions, we need to decide which takes precedence: quality time with family and friends, or bargain prices and longer store hours. Having both at the same time is neither celebrating the traditional values of the holiday, nor inventing modern traditions.

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