Let the festivities begin!
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No matter what month it is, there are always national and international celebrations around the corner: Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year, Hanukkah, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Eid, Labor Day, Halloween and, coming up soon, Thanksgiving – one of the most popular North American holidays. However, public holidays and celebrations are becoming increasingly commercialized. Are their true meanings being forgotten or overlooked?
With brands galore competing for our attention and companies ramping up their “in-your-face” marketing and advertising strategies, it’s easy to see why staying focused on the essence of festivities and not frittering away money on unnecessary items requires a conscious and determined mission. What remains at the heart of all holidays and celebrations, we hope, is an opportunity to relax with family, friends and loved ones, to have fun and enjoy ourselves, to take time away from our hectic schedules, to express our gratitude and to live in the moment – embracing a religious or spiritual element if we so choose. Goodwill, rather than excessive spending, should be front of mind, but that’s easier said than done in the face of events such as “Black Friday” – a shopping bonanza that kicks off immediately after Thanksgiving in the US.
Black Friday has now become such a momentous shopping occasion it has made its way to Canada, where Thanksgiving is celebrated earlier in the fall, and even Europe, where Thanksgiving celebrations are nonexistent. Last year, there were mini riots in a popular supermarket chain in the UK as shoppers scrambled wildly to get their hands on the best deal. Meanwhile, American consumers spent a whopping $50.9 billion over the 2014 Thanksgiving weekend according to the National Retail Federation; surprisingly, that represented an 11 percent drop from the previous year. Let’s face it, it takes a lot of willpower not to be swayed by the tempting deals bombarding us not just at the shops, but literally 24/7 online.
Phenomenal spending also occurs when people host celebrations, in addition to any presents or superfluous items they purchase. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, over 51 million turkeys are devoured on Thanksgiving, and Americans spend $2 875 000 000 on food for Thanksgiving dinner. It seems our gluttony and greed know no bounds. Kids’ Christmas wish lists have turned into “must-haves” that parents will go out of their way (and probably their budget) to obtain in a bid to keep their children happy and on trend. And thanks to the protocol surrounding holiday/celebration gifts, many may feel obligated to spend when they really can’t afford to or don’t particularly wish to; etiquette gets the better of them.
It’s crucial to remember that happiness is an emotion and cannot be bought. A new purchase or gift may provide a temporary fix, but that good feeling isn’t going to last. It will fade as quickly as you can blink and move on to the next celebration. When you look back to your most treasured memories, do you remember the five-star restaurant on Valentine’s Day, with its rip-off menu, or the special romantic feelings you shared with your loved one? Should you need a commercialized holiday to be forced to recognize and thank your partner? Did the near-human-sized Easter egg fill your heart with long-term joy, or did the real joy come from spending the holiday surrounded by those you care about most? Do you recollect what you got for Christmas from everyone five years ago? Or, more importantly, do you remember where you were, who you were with and the warmth of that moment?
This Thanksgiving, take a step back from the festivities to reflect on what’s most important to you about the day. Although it’s not widely celebrated in England, Thanksgiving has its roots in the Protestant Reformation during the reign of Henry VIII. Martin Frobisher can be linked to the first Canadian Thanksgiving in 1578, when he celebrated the end of a perilous journey from England, through storms and icebergs, by thanking God for his survival in what is now known as Frobisher Bay, in Nunavut. Thanksgiving can also be traced back to French settlers arriving in New France with the intrepid explorer Samuel de Champlain, who celebrated their successful harvest and shared their wealth of produce with local Aboriginal communities. Irish, Scottish, German and US settlers also shaped traditions. In the US, the Thanksgiving holiday is often traced back to the 1621 celebration in Plymouth, in present-day Massachusetts, when pilgrims and Puritans who had emigrated from England gave thanks for the good harvest.
Whatever religious or non-religious Thanksgiving rationale resonates with you, or whatever Thanksgiving myths you’re perplexed by, take time to ponder why you’re coming together with family and friends this year and what’s most important to you; this, in itself, will make the day priceless. Whether you’re going all out with a classic turkey menu or creating your own pumpkin and cranberry fare, it shouldn’t be about how much you contribute to the economy, but about the time and feelings you share, and the memories you create, with those around you.
See this infographic on Thanksgiving-related production and consumption: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Newsroom/2014/thanksgiving_by_the_numbers.pdf