WASHINGTON – For children, Christmastime may be the favorite holiday, even if their families don’t celebrate the birth of Christ. The twinkling lights and aura of magic that suddenly transfigure the most plebian edifices are nearly as seductive as a round-trip ticket to Never-Never Land. For adults, invariably, the favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. The reason is simple: Compared to all others, Thanksgiving is a relatively stress-free holiday. Free of those things that separate us – religious, political and otherwise – Thanksgiving is a day of e pluribus unum. In George Washington’s proclamation of 1789, Thanksgiving was designated as a time of duty “to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor … a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” How far we have drifted. Hear ye, hear ye, all members of Congress. Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday for more prosaic reasons as well. No gifts, no costumes, no flowers, candies or treats to buy. All we have to do is gather with friends and family, commune over food and football and, if one so desires, prayer. What’s not to love about a day like that? A few things come to mind: Holiday decorations up too soon, Christmas trees lining supermarket storefronts, Christmas carols too early in stores. Stress and the pressure to purchase suddenly are in the air, contaminating the purity of our annual day of repose and urging us from our respite. The once month-long break between Thanksgiving and Christmas shrinks each year so that our last turkey sandwich is hardly digested before consumer-itis sets in. Symptoms are well-known and graphic displays are in evidence – packed parking lots and human stampedes; shopping baskets overflowing with huge must-haves; debt and depression when the adrenaline subsides. This year the break was crunched further by Thanksgiving’s late date, but the trend of turning fall into one, unrelenting shopping season has been decades in the making. And though we profess to resent the imposition of perpetual holidays, we seem impotent to resist the command to consume. Black Friday – the perennial, people-crushing, day-after-Thanksgiving sales marathon – is nearly a holiday itself. This year, Thanksgiving Day is the new black as several chains (including Walmart, Best Buy, JCPenney, Toys R Us, Target, Kmart, Sears and even The Gap) plan to open on the day itself. In so doing, these retailers further diminish the meaning of Thanksgiving while advancing the notion that time is better spent hauling away large-screen TVs than engaging in human communion. The bumper-sticker slogan – “He who dies with the most toys wins” – seems to become a cultural mantra as we abandon any pretense of human purpose beyond consumption. Despite the seeming inevitability of these trends, many Americans wish it weren’t so. A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll found bipartisan aversion to stores opening on Thanksgiving – 65 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of independents say stores should be closed. Yet as Forbes points out, stores wouldn’t open if there were no demand. When the National Retail Federation asked consumers why they want to shop early, most said it was to spread out their gift budgets or to take advantage of deals too good to pass up. Virtue is in the details, I suppose. According to Accenture’s annual shopping survey, 38 percent of respondents plan to visit four or more stores on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, and more than one-third say they’ll shop before midnight Thursday. Even so, one more day, one more tradition reduced to its commercial value and a few dollars saved at the expense of humility and gratitude seems a price too high for the procurement of more stuff. In the scheme of things, this sense of loss is perhaps undeserving of lamentations, but bowing to commercial greed, especially on our national day of thanks, seems a crime against one of our best founding inventions. If stores erect a sale, they will come. But stores don’t have to. Here’s a revolutionary concept: Instead, why not demonstrate gratitude for our nation by urging its people to spend time with their families, surely the most valuable insurance for a stable future. Profits may take a short holiday, but the reward of living in a culture that values human connection and appreciates, in Washington’s words from the proclamation, “the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed” – is beyond measure.
Kathleen Parker’s column is distributed by The Washington Post Writers Group.