The Thanksgiving Frenzy

Every year, when the Thanksgiving Frenzy comes around, it always surprises me, even though the retail stores start building out their Thanksgiving merchandise displays the day after they take down their Halloween decorations.

Halloween, you see, is the actual beginning of the holiday season, kicking off an explosion (except in very recent years) of frivolous travel and unrestrained consumerism, which runs from the beginning of September – when retailers start hocking their Halloween merchandise – through the end of January, when the windows for merchandise return slam shut….by which time they are already setting up their Easter Bonnet displays. (Okay, almost no one does the Easter bonnet thing anymore, but I couldn’t resist the metaphor.)

The Thanksgiving Frenzy begins in earnest two weeks before the day itself, which is when the window for cheaper airfares (also a thing of the past today) closes, which means that your travel plans have to be organized well in advance, beginning right around Halloween (again.)

If you haven’t finalized your travel plans by then, your itinerary is going to be hit or miss. Throw in the increasing likeliness of debilitating snow storms and other natural disasters, and Thanksgiving travel becomes a recurring nightmare (which is not to say that travel isn’t always a nightmare on the other 364 days of a non-leap year.)

A week prior to the most over-hyped holiday on the calendar, you had better have your holiday dinner orders placed and confirmed with your local catering services (if you have the money) or at least have a Butterball turkey on order. (Remember it takes a full 24 hours to thaw out a frozen turkey the right way. I always used to shoot my own until I realized that I didn’t like turkey.)

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving – today, as a matter of fact – is the most popular travel day of the year because Americans of all faiths head home for Thanksgiving in far greater numbers than those who flock home for Christmas or Easter.

It’s also when cooks have to pick up their turkeys from their supermarkets, when lines form outside and down the block from the local ethnic bakeries, and when stops must be made at the garden center to pick up flowers and potted plants. (There are three major ethnic bakeries, French, Italian and Jewish, each of which also purveys to all bread-buying ethnicities.)

And then the day arrives.

The turkey is almost always overcooked, which is why the gravy is actually the most important component of the Thanksgiving Meal. (If the skin isn’t properly crackled, the bird’s a dud.) There’s never enough cranberry sauce and, unless you make it from scratch, it’s often not worth eating. More often than not, the mashed potatoes are lumpy, not because the chef doesn’t know how to make mashed potatoes, but rather because making mashed for 20 people is very different from making mashed for four.

So, then, finally, there we are, sitting together at the Thanksgiving table, eating dinner in the early afternoon for some reason, having nothing much to talk about with each other since many haven’t seen or even spoken to each other since the last Thanksgiving, and finding it difficult to raise any subject without tripping over dangerous differences of opinion, looking forward to the holiday football games because discussions about team preferences are somewhat safer than political conversations.

After all, what’s an opinion, other than an occasion for violent disagreements?

Once the debris is cleared away, and the leftovers are put aside to provide evening snacks for those who are hungry again…the next item on the agenda is to rush out to Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, Best Buy, or Big Lots (depending on your adjusted gross income levels) for Black Friday, which actually begins after Thanksgiving on Thursday night.

(The retailers are apprehensive because they know that their customers have already been shopping Black Friday deals since the beginning of October, including the deals on their own websites, which are undercutting their retail prices at their brick-and-mortar locations.)

And, then, all day Friday, in slavish obedience to tradition, everyone rushes out to grab the deals on products they don’t really need while they also stock up on Christmas gifts because the day after Thanksgiving is when the Christmas rush begins.

By the time the purchases are all stashed away, and Friday’s over, you have one more day to watch more football, which takes up most of Saturday, unless you have an early departure because you were smart enough not to book your return flights (or drives if you’re not going that far) for Sunday, which is the second worst travel day of the year.

But be of good cheer because Christmas is right around the corner, filled with songs of joy and peace, but really waiting to suck some additional cash out of your bank accounts because you’re too stupid to figure out that it’s all a silly scam.

There are twenty-three instances of Black Fridays in recorded history (on Wikipedia at least,) none of which commemorate anything good…but the antecedent for the term is actually the commemoration of the date on which most retail establishments reach their breakeven point for the year, because that date always seems to fall on the day after Thanksgiving.

That’s right: The day after Thanksgiving used to be the breakeven day for Retail America, with the revenues coming in from that day until the end of the year representing their profit margins.

And that’s why you go into a Thanksgiving frenzy every year…because retail America needs your money.