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Whatever happened to Thanksgiving?

Whatever happened to Thanksgiving?

By: Phil Hardwick - November 3, 2023

Columnist Phil Hardwick says Thanksgiving is not a holiday that retailers get excited about, but rather it’s a time to look inward instead of outward.

It’s November, a still colorful autumn month. Adding to the color are Christmas Open Houses, holiday ads on television, and seasonal shopping events. But wait. What about that other holiday? Whatever happened to Thanksgiving?

I don’t want to take away anything from the retail world. After all, November is when many businesses make a substantial sum of their yearly sales. Indeed, the busiest shopping day of the year is the Friday after Thanksgiving. You know it as Black Friday. Last year, online Black Friday sales in the United States topped a record-breaking $9.12 billion, according to Adobe Analytics. In 2023, total holiday sales are expected to hit $957.3 billion to $966.3 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s up three to four percent from last year. Let’s see, if my math is correct, $957 billion (holiday sales) divided by 340 million (U.S. population) equals $2,814 per person. But I digress.

I have not seen any news reports that Thanksgiving is a multi-billion-dollar-per-year industry. Thanksgiving is not a holiday that retailers get excited about. There is not a whole lot to sell unless you are in the food and restaurant business. There are not very many Thanksgiving gifts or apparel to sell. In short, Thanksgiving is a time to look inward instead of outward. In its own way, an internal holiday. Without meaning to overlay Thanksgiving on Christmas, there are several reasons to pause and enjoy Thanksgiving.

First, Thanksgiving always occurs on a Thursday. That means that most businesses, except for those involved in that Black Friday madness, shut down for the day. For many workers, that means it is possible to have four days off in a row or to take only three days of leave to have possibly nine days away from the job. Christmas is always on December 25, but that can mean any day of the week. When Christmas is on Saturday or Sunday, workers usually only have three days off in a row.

Second, Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. It has an American history. Even though most of us, think about pilgrims, native Americans, and the Mayflower, there is much more to the story of the holiday. Check out some Thanksgiving history and debunk some myths on the History Channel website.

Third, Thanksgiving is about gathering with family. Perhaps that is becoming less so, but for many people, this is a time for getting most of the family together in the same place at the same time consequently, the two busiest travel days of the year for airlines in the United States, is the Sunday after Thanksgiving and the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

Fourth, Thanksgiving is in autumn, the time of year when leaves are colorful, and the season is changing. The air is cooler, and there is crispness about. Activities abound in autumn. Football, elections, school plays, theater, and much more. It is a busy time of the year. There is a lot to talk about at those family gatherings. Autumn is also harvesting time, which is one of the main reasons for Thanksgiving in the first place. The food is changing to cold weather food.

Fifth, Thanksgiving is the kickoff to the Christmas season. OK, there I may have given the Christmas season its due. Many families acquire their Christmas tree on the day after Thanksgiving and consider the weekend after Thanksgiving as the transition to the Christmas season. Notice that I have been saying Christmas season. As our culture and society change Christmas is giving away to the holiday season. defines a holiday as “a day fixed by law or custom, on which ordinary business is suspended income commemoration of some event, or in honor of some person. The fourth definition in the list is “a religious feast day.” I will resist discussing the issues of “the reason for the season,” except to observe that the Christmas season has become as much, if not more, a commercial season as a religious season.

I began this column by asking whatever happened to Thanksgiving. The answer to that question is that it got encroached upon by Christmas. Nevertheless, Thanksgiving is still alive and celebrated, and it serves us Americans well, thank you. In my household, it is a very special time and one I am extremely thankful for.

I am thankful that I live in a country where free enterprise and business are still valued. I am thankful that I live in a country where I can express my opinions without the government telling me that I may not do so. I am thankful for those who volunteer to serve our country in the Armed Forces. I am also thankful for those of you who read this column and contact me with your thoughts, suggestions, and other feedback. And those are just the beginning of the things I am thankful for.

Finally, my role at the Thanksgiving meal is to make the cornbread dressing. You can find the recipe on my website here.

Happy Thanksgiving.

About the Author(s)
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Phil Hardwick

Phil Hardwick is an award-winning business columnist and semi-retired economic developer. He also served as an adjunct faculty member at the Millsaps College Else School of Management for many years. He has taught over 1,000 students, written over 800 columns, written 11 books and assisted over 100 communities and organizations with strategic planning. In February 2016 he was inducted as a Lifetime Member of the Mississippi Economic Development Council.
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