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Turkey Day Without A Side Of Shopping? God Help Us

If not to carbo-load for a Black Friday mall run, what is Thanksgiving for? (Don McCullough/flickr)
If not to carbo-load for a Black Friday mall run, what is Thanksgiving for? (Don McCullough/flickr)
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I thought we had this settled. Thanksgiving was the carbo-loading kickoff to the Christmas -- I’m sorry, holiday -- buying season, an opportunity to load up on the sustenance necessary for the rigors of the malls. Now, REI, the outdoor goods merchant, is turning traitor to its retail brethren, telling us not to go shopping on Thanksgiving Day or even, for God’s sake, on the day after. And to make its point, it’s saying it won’t be open either day.

This is nothing less than consumerist sacrilege. Shutting the store doors  on one of the nation's busiest shopping days? Is REI — with more than $2.2 billion in sales and more than 140 stores — crazy? Is it trying to start a trend? And if it succeeds, then what are we supposed to do? Sit around and spend some time talking to our relatives?

Please, no.

REI wants to bring back Thanksgiving. It may even want us to spend Friday together, too. How far could this go?

A brief history. Thanksgiving started as a day to be grateful, but somehow we transformed it into one of the more arduous occasions of the year. Rather than, say, staying at home and offering up a quiet prayer of thanks to whichever deity (or non-deity) we recognized, we instead thought it would be a good idea to get everyone together -- distance be damned. As a result, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving became the busiest travel day of the year, chock full of traffic jams, flight delays and missed connections. We now come together -- many for the first time in a long while — in the surliest of moods.

We then decided that we might as well serve each other the oddest meal ever. Seriously, folks, here’s what we get: Jell-O with mini marshmallows and shredded carrots, boiled-to-death whole onions, bizarre casseroles (cream of mushroom and canned green beans?), various mashed squashes and root vegetables in multiple hues of orange, and wines in a box. The pièce de résistance, of course, is roast turkey, a meat so bland and flavorless that the highest praise it can fetch is that it’s “moist.” (And that praise, by the way, comes rarely. The bird is usually so desiccated that it can only be made edible by the addition of something we call “stuffing.” Stuffing, as near as I can tell, is just bread cooked in the cavity of the bird because, as we all know, nothing beats a good combination of wet bread and dried-out poultry.)

(artvintage1800s.etsy.com/flickr)
(artvintage1800s.etsy.com/flickr)

That deadly combination — bad travel, bad food and bad drink -- unsurprisingly produce a day of conflict and infighting. Sex, politics and religion hold center stage. Aunt June feels compelled to wax on about illegal immigration. Uncle Henry wonders about nephew Tom and his girlfriend living in sin. Grandma recounts an embarrassing story involving bed-wetting. Soon everyone is at each other’s throats, vowing never to see each other again -- until, after a year has passed and memories have faded, the whole cycle repeats itself.

To save us from this, the country’s biggest retailers decided to send us to the stores. Rather than a day of family-induced misery, they figured, why not buy stuff? That way, instead of dwelling on each other’s foibles, we could spend our time scanning ads and making gift lists. Thus we got Black Friday which, after a few years, began to eat away at Thursday. Malls started to open at midnight, then at 6 p.m., and soon, the retailers were doubtless hoping, we’d just spend all of Thanksgiving Thursday in the stores, perhaps grabbing a turkey sandwich at a Subway in brief memory of what once was.

Might folks, having spent a couple of days not buying things, start to wonder about the whole holiday shopping season?

And now along comes REI trying to upend the whole thing.

Make no mistake, that’s the agenda. REI wants to bring back Thanksgiving. It may even want us to spend Friday together, too. How far could this go? Might folks, having spent a couple of days not buying things, start to wonder about the whole holiday shopping season? Might they begin to think that perhaps Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, et. al., are about something other than what you buy and what you get? Might the mad rush of commerce, a mainstay of the economy, end altogether?

I trust you see the disaster that looms. REI — and the revolution it seeks – must be stopped!

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Tom Keane Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Tom Keane is a Boston-based writer.

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