don draper and the death of thanksgiving

Today is Halloween, a subject on which I have almost zero thoughts. Christians have an uneasy relationship with this holiday, given its pagan roots, but in its modern form it’s pretty harmless. If my neighbors are willing to give me free candy just for wearing a silly costume and knocking on their door, I think it’s irresponsible not to. 

What concerns me more is the state of Thanksgiving in our country. By far, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Let’s be honest; it’s the perfect holiday. It revolves around eating turkey, watching football, and napping. As an added bonus, you don’t have to buy presents for anyone! It’s an ideal time of gathering with family, taking time off of work, and reflecting on all to be thankful for. 


OK, to be fair, not everyone is trying to kill it. But Macy’s, Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, J.C. Penney’s, Target, The Gap, and many other retailers are opening their stores on Thanksgiving Day to allow Black Friday shoppers to get started on their Christmas shopping early.

This bothers me for several reasons. First, I am an unabashed defender of Thanksgiving. I do not take the encroachment of the Christmas season onto Thanksgiving lightly. Christmas music may not be played in my house or in my car until the Friday following Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving deserves its due and its place as a major holiday. Christmas does not start until all the leftovers are gone. 

Second, having stores open on Thanksgiving takes people away from their families and forces them to work. I hope that they will be getting overtime pay for it, but still, it breaks up families on a day that families should be together. 

Third, this move by retailers cheapens two holidays. It not only cheapens Thanksgiving by casting it as merely the launching point for Christmas sales, but it also cheapens Christmas, making it about unbridled greed and getting the best deal on Apple products. Critiquing the consumerism surrounding Christmas is old hat at this point, but it does seem that this is taking it to another level. 

However, are these stores really to blame? After all, they are really only giving us what we have demanded. If people didn’t want to shop on Thanksgiving, stores wouldn’t open. Clearly, there is enough demand for shopping on Thanksgiving that all these stores are opening their doors. The problem, as always, is us.

We have taken a day intended for us to give thanks for what we already have and have turned it into the starting line in our race to buy stuff that we don’t already have.

Contentment, simplicity, and thankfulness used to be virtues. But who wants contentment when I can have a new iPad or a new toaster oven with built-in WiFi or the complete Ernest collection on Blu-Ray. We don’t want to pause and reflect on what we have to be thankful for anymore. 

So one can’t blame retailers for opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day; if we pause to reflect too long on what we have to be thankful for, we may realize that we are happy without all the stuff they are trying to sell us. After all, they desperately want us to believe what Don Draper said on an episode of Mad Men

What is happiness? It’s a moment before you realize you need more happiness.

In a consumeristic world, this is gospel truth. And this is why we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, because we don’t believe we can be happy for long. We don’t believe we can be content with what we have and must continue to consume. 

Contentment and thankfulness has become an uncomfortable place for us. We are afraid we will be left behind in a world where obsolescence happens overnight. Don Draper was right; for most of us, happiness is only a fleeting moment before we realize we need more. 

Thanksgiving, more and more, is a discipline that we need to practice. If we want to get off of the hamster-wheel of consumerism, if we want to learn that we are able to be happy, content, and joyous, we must learn to give thanks. Ideally, this should be an every day happening. For right now, I’ll settle for one day a year. 



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