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Past and Present: Holidays Gone Missing

laurieofindy / Flickr / Creative Commons

During the past few years, the holiday shopping season has undergone a dramatic transformation.

Thanksgiving, a holiday traditionally characterized by significant, often intergenerational, family interaction, is increasingly being diminished in the name of enhanced corporate profits. In 2013, an unprecedented number of major retailers, including Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Macy’s and J.C. Penney decided to begin their “Black Friday” promotions on Thanksgiving evening. One store, Old Navy, even opened their doors at 9:00 a.m. on turkey day.

Perhaps even more disturbing, a November 22, 2013 online story in Salon magazine discussed how some individuals were forming lines at various retail outlets, as early as ten days before Thanksgiving, to make sure they were among the first to take advantage of discounts. One of these zealous bargain hunters was quoted in the article as saying “we usually have Thanksgiving dinner brought to the tent, so we’ll have a full Thanksgiving spread in the tent.”

Needless to say, such a scenario doesn’t exactly convey a Norman Rockwell image of family Thanksgiving dinner.

While it might be hyperbole to suggest that the checkout counter has become America’s holiday altar, it also seems clear that Thanksgiving, and to the same extent, the deeper meaning behind Christmas, is becoming much more peripheral in terms of the reason for the season.

Robert E. Weems Jr. is the Willard W. Garvey Distinguished Professor of Business History at Wichita State University.