By now everyone has seen the video of the waffle maker bruhaha at Walmart somewhere “in one of those sister-marrying states,” as was so eloquently described by a commenter on Reddit. Of particular value to that video is the obese woman who was less concerned about her pants falling off and more concerned with throwing elbows to make sure she got four of the waflle makers, adding a ready-made metaphor to an already accurate representation of one of the most disappointing facets of our national nature.
This has gone viral, and is being touted as an example of American consumerism, and people are shocked by this. I’m not sure why, though. This is nothing new. Boston residents have long watched The Running Of The Brides with amusement, going back to the late 40s. Cabbage Patch Dolls, Tickle Me Elmos, Wii Game Systems, all have storied histories of having fights break out during the Christmas shopping season. A couple of years ago in two different places people died in stampedes on Black Friday. When I worked in retail during and immediately following college, I worked a couple of Black Fridays that completely disgusted me and after that I always found a way to avoid working those days after that.
I am the last person to criticize mindless consumerism, I have my own issues with impulse buying in certain areas. That said, however, I don’t get the whole concept of fighting crowds and adding stress and aggravation to shopping just to get a few deals. A friend of mine has a system, where she gets her entire season’s shopping done early in the morning, bribing clerks with candy bars, and getting up at the crack of dawn to brave the crowds for the bargains. Another friend makes a day of it with her mom, spending the morning in a familial bonding tradition that I can respect but not understand.
It’s nothing new, and that’s fine. I’ve never been a huge shopper anyhow, I generally don’t care for wandering and browsing stores, I have a goal for shopping, I go to the store, I get what I need, and will occasionally look at something for a bit of my eye gets caught, but I can’t take time “to just go look”. The one exception to this was my brother and I used to take a list of people to buy gifts for, and spend a late December Saturday at the mall finding items in a collaborative manner for each person on the list. That was not out of a desire to do it that way, it was more a result of procrastination.
It is just not worth it to me. Granted, I am already very jaded and cynical about the holidays anyhow, I honestly can not remember the last time I was actually excited about the approach of the Christmas holiday season. I think it may have been the year I got a Big Trak. So, maybe 1980? Maybe my disillusionment with the holiday has a lot to do with it, I dunno.
But now, this idea of starting this shopping frenzy at midnight on Thanksgiving night, the one end-of-the-year holiday I have always enjoyed, really gets under my skin. I have a good-sized family, and we’ve always been fairly close, so it makes sense that Thanksgiving has meant more to me. While the extravagance of the meal is a bit of an indulgence, the day is not tied to reckless consumerism the same way Christmas has become. It’s a day when families get together, enjoy a nice meal, and have a day where you enjoy each other’s company without having to worry about making sure you got Aunt Catherine the right size sweater, or getting annoyed because your sister got a nicer gift from your grandmother than you did.
Growing up, we used to go to my grandparent’s house, and got together with my aunts and uncles on my mom’s side, and had a nice day watching football, eating turkey, avoiding my uncle napping on the floor of the family room after dinner, and when my cousin Julia got older, we kids would go to a movie. Usually a Disney-type movie, but one year we did see “Jingle All The Way” and my brother David might get forgiven for that suggestion, probably when his sons are married, however. The last conversation I ever had with my grandfather was on Thanksgiving, 1999, and he passed away a few weeks later. This year marked the first Thanksgiving without my grandmother as well, and there was definitely a large hole in the celebration not having her there.
But Thanksgiving also lent a certain perspective as well. We were fortunate. So many others were not, and this was a reminder that it was incumbent on us to recognize that, and do our part to try and make the world a little better place for others as well. When my great-aunt passed away a few years ago, I was (not very) surprised to learn that she would spend Thanksgiving morning helping at Rosie’s Place, a women’s homeless shelter in Boston. Then she would return home and host a Thanksgiving meal of her own for her family. My senior year in high school and a couple of times after that, I got a great deal of perspective and satisfaction from volunteering at a Pine Street Inn-sponsored Thanksgiving meal at the St Francis Center in Boston. My high school’s motto, “Men For Others”, was put into practice and added a dimension to my worldview that I had not really appreciated growing up by some of the community service outreach projects I participated in during my time there. As an unrelated side-note, though, they still had a long way to go as far as universally applying that motto, but that’s a different post altogether.
I look back most, however, on the tough times, when money was tight or non-existent growing up. The time I spent homeless, crashing on my friend’s spare bed or couch when my parents lost their house and if not for family and friends who knows how my brothers and I would have ended up. This is why the trend towards putting more emphasis on Black Friday and shopping for Christmas and taking it away from the actual day of Thanksgiving itself is so viscerally offensive to me. I am thankful for what I have right now, and how lucky I am. Life is definitely full of adversity, and I have had more than my fair share of it. I am very fortunate, however, having overcome a great deal, made it through some very difficult times, with the help and support and love of family and friends. I have a good job, and while jobs have been tricky to come by, I have been very fortunate even in a tough market, with the longest tenure I have been out of work being four months.
I still have a long way to go before I can actually enjoy the holiday season. But I do still love Thanksgiving, and it just makes me sad to see these videos, hear about all the excitement over sales and opening the stores at Midnight or even earlier, taking away the purpose of Thanksgiving on a personal level. We are so driven by this commercial culture and manipulated by corporations who are interested in parting us from our money, and are slowly losing this day that we have institutionalized as a day of thanks and reflection.
We have viral videos of waffleiron riots and people pepper-spraying other shoppers to get these bargains held up as our reflections, instead.