Or necktie. Or wallet. Or the latest gadget. Or a bigger tv.
[Not meaning any disrespect to anyone who really does need a sweater. Or socks, gloves, and warm clothing. Or any number of other things. I am very aware that people really do need material things.]
But as we head into Black Friday, or what is now known as Black Thursday, more and more retailers are opening on Thanksgiving Day to get a bigger share of the holiday sales. Why are we so eager to give up our family time for commercial reasons? What if we took the next few days to really think about what we are grateful for and what we can do for others?
Since 1863 when President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to be a national holiday to count our blessings, we’ve watched holidays become more and more commercialized. From the 1920s when Macy’s created the first Thanksgiving Day Parade to the 1970s when the Black Friday tradition began, we have become less focused on those blessings and more obsessed with getting those deals (Klein, 2011). Let’s not forget that these traditions were started by retailers to enhance their businesses.
As there is more anxiety in society, people find that shopping is a release, according to Dr. Kit Yarrow, author of “Decoding the New Consumer Mind” (Stetka, 2013). The thrill of getting a bargain is an emotional high. People also shop Black Friday as a family tradition. Retailers know all this and use all kinds of cues to get people excited to buy.
If you’re on the social networks you’ve likely seen the meme that says, “Because only in America would we trample each other for sales the day after we give thanks for what we have.”
Do you even remember many of the holiday gifts you received last year? How about a few years back? We tend to remember people and feelings and experiences. Not material things. “The stronger the emotions connected to an experience, the stronger the subsequent memory” (Wesson, 2012). Most things don’t create long lasting memories, do they?
Of course we still want to give gifts. So what could we do instead of buying more things people don’t really need?
There are people who may like nothing better than for you to spend time with them. Children. Older relatives. Plan some time to make those visits. Make memories. Go places. Plan experiences. You’ll both be glad you did.
Either do them yourself or pay for them. Here are a few examples. I’m sure you can think of many more.
- Babysitting. When I have my little grandbabies now I realize how important it is to have family and extended family. How much it helps the parents when I watch them. And how much I would have loved to have someone do this for me back when my kids were little. Offer your time or pay for a babysitter for the kids in your life.
- Cleaning. Maybe someone could use a local maid service or professional organizer to help get their life together. Or just a hand with cleaning up or getting organized.
- Car detailing. I received this as a gift once and enjoyed the clean upholstery for a long time after. I just saw a sign by someone offering this service. (Of course the marketing side of me wondered if they offer gift certificates.)
- Coaching. There are life coaches, weight coaches, health coaches, sports coaches … coaches for just about anything one could want help with. Gift this service to help your loved ones improve their lives.
Since the economic crash there are millions of people in our country who are in need of basic necessities. They may not ask. Take a minute to really look at someone’s situation. Honestly, maybe a grocery store gift card will help them much more that that thing you were going to buy. They’ll remember that you made the effort to really help.
Let’s talk about consumption.
I know it sounds cheap to give something used as a gift but we waste far too much in this country. We replace things just because we want the latest, not because the thing wore out. In watching my grandbabies already outgrow a ton of clothes in just a few months, I remembered the children’s resale shops where you can sell your kids’ outgrown clothes and gear as well as buy them ‘new’ stuff. Maybe you could gift a certificate to such a shop. And when you do get new items for the holidays be sure to pass along the old, maybe on Freecycle where you can give away the things you no longer need to those who will use them and keep them out of the landfills.
What are their life dreams?
- To take a class? Help them find a program. Pay for it. (Skillshare now offers gift cards.)
- To go back to school? Help them research programs, pay for classes, find scholarships and financial aid.
- To start a business? Hire them a business coach or consultant (Disclaimer: Yes, I offer that service.)
- To travel? Give them tickets if you can. Or even a book about their favorite destination.
- To be an artist or a writer? Find them classes or coaches (I know some.)
Do you even know the real dreams of your loved ones?
Other Ways to Make a Difference
Shop Small. Small Business Saturday is November 30.
Shop Local and Independent. “Each dollar you spend at independent businesses returns 3 times more money to your local economy than one spent at a chain — a benefit we all can bank on.” –AMIBA Top Reasons to Buy Local
Shop service businesses. Give more than just things and support your local economy at the same time.
Support arts and crafts by shopping at local fairs and on Etsy.
If you’re in the U.S., it’s likely you’ll be spending some time with family and close friends this Thanksgiving. Find out what people need. Ask about their dreams. Try to take a few moments for yourself to think about really matters to you and yours.
What could you give, or do, that would make a real difference?
Klein, M. (2011, November 23). How Thanksgiving Became the Holy Day of Consumerism: Echoes. Bloomberg. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-23/how-thanksgiving-became-the-holy-day-of-consumerism-echoes.html
Stetka, B. S. & Yarrow, K. (2013, November 22). Why We Shop: The Neuropsychology of Consumption. Medscape Psychiatry. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/814649
Wesson, K. (2012, March 1). Learning & Memory: How Do We Remember and Why Do We Often Forget? Brainworld. http://brainworldmagazine.com/learning-memory-how-do-we-remember-and-why-do-we-often-forget/