It's happened. The hollow specter of American overindulgence and insatiable consumerism has now swallowed not only the day of our Lord's birth, but even another supposedly sacrosanct American holiday.
Make no mistake, the monster is coming for your home, and it will have it, whether by land or by World Wide Web.
Recently retail giant Macy's announced that it would join other retailers in opening not on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, which has recently ascended to rarified heights as our third American holiday, but on Thanksgiving day itself to allow customers more time to cash in on bargain shopping. The move will afford us all more opportunities to eschew spending actual time with our supposed loved ones, and to instead buy them things.
Macy's will break its 155-year tradition of being closed on Thanksgiving day to join Target, Toys R Us, Wal-Mart, Sears and Kmart in offering sales. The other outlets had started the tradition of opening on Turkey Day two years ago. Of course, Macy's was careful to release a statement that its door-buster deals would become available "after families across the country have finished their holiday meals and celebrations."
But let's be serious.
If bargain hunters of past holiday seasons are any indication, lines of shoppers will probably begin to form unbridled masses hungry for discount shopping and once-in-a-lifetime deals well before the turkey goes in the oven. In fact, the turkey may just be forgotten altogether. Hell, why not just do Thanksgiving on Saturday?
Many media outlets have described the deals offered by Macy's and others on Black Thanksgiving as "mediocre" or less than stellar, but the discounts themselves don't need to be great. You see, it's not about the lust for the actual item or even the savings that drives mass hordes to sleep on sidewalks and camp out in front of already opened retailers for a chance to save a couple bucks. No, it's about the chase. It's about the opportunity to do something and have something -- a great deal! -- that everyone else couldn't get.
All of this is just further evidence that the United States of America has rapidly become a nation of more than false idolatry -- we truly worship the Almighty Dollar.
It's been eons since Christmas, for most Americans, was really about the birth of Jesus Christ or even about spending time with family, friends or loved ones. But Thanksgiving used to be at least marginally better.
While Thanksgiving Thursday did illustrate our inimitable American appetite for slop and sloth, it was at least an ode to the innocuous side of our penchant for excess -- our love for food, football and family (in that order). But this new development is a bit unsettling.
I suppose it could be the way I was raised or the fact that I've never really had a great deal of money, but to be honest I have never understood the allure of stuff. I mean, why do you or I or anyone really need a waterproof camera or Martha Stewart Collection Enameled Cast Iron Casserole Dishes or a 112-inch television? The simple truth is that we don't. But the better question is why are so many people so quick to sacrifice their time, energy and money to get them.
I went to my very first Black Friday sale last year. Rather than leave people outside in the cold to fend for themselves that year, Wal-Mart allowed customers to come inside and wait in pre-zoned lines for individual items. Want multiple items? Too bad. Need to leave the line? Better have someone there to take your spot. It was still chaos, but at least people were warm. It was a far cry from the tent cities and miniature Cro-Magnon civilizations that popped up outside big box retailers on Black Fridays past.
But there was a perceptible sadness emanating from everyone inside, from the shoppers to the employees, that was truly the opposite of what anyone should experience during the holidays. It was almost like being in a soup kitchen, but without the goodwill and pride that comes from doing something nice for those less fortunate.
Instead, employees were doing their best to avoid any interaction with amped up and hostile customers who had been waiting in aisles with no respite for a prize they would still have to pay for in a matter of hours. It was an inescapable situation they had put themselves in for no justifiable reason at all with no happy ending.
I realized then that the most depressing part of Black Friday was knowing that no one needed to be there.
They would all be happier being somewhere -- anywhere -- else. These weren't food stamps or housing vouchers they were waiting on, but nominal discounts on already accessible consumer goods that might provide them a modicum of happiness for maybe a few days.
It's not even that a sacred American cow is being overtaken by the lugubrious spirit of greed and selfishness that is so sad. It's that we are replacing a holiday entrenched in the tradition of food and good feelings -- that despite its shameful and make-believe origins stands for family unity and serenity -- and replacing it with the sadness and decadence of standing around in a store waiting for the opportunity to pay for things we don't need.
More worrisome than what it means for all of us as consumers -- that we are wholly incapable of saying 'no' to shelling out stupid amounts of money for even one day to wind down and be with our loved ones -- is what it means for those in our society who are at the bottom of the economic totem pole and have no real choice to but work on the holiday in order to be rewarded with the time-and-a-half pay they have convinced themselves they need.
The motivation for Macy's to join in on the circus of stuff is undeniable. Stores like money and they've been missing out on a fat sack of it the final Thursday in November for years.
But for the rest of us, are we really so desperate to be sheep to the hallowed specter of capitalistic indulgence that we can't rest for even one day?
Thanksgiving is a make-believe holiday, to be sure. The Pilgrims were far too busy slaughtering the Native Americans to be bothered with the prospect of sharing a meal with them, and certainly late in November would have been a less-than-ideal time for such things. Even so, our American aberration is one of the few things that hasn't been bastardized by the ills of greed. Maybe we could keep it that way.