Thanksgiving in the United States traditionally commemorates the feast in 1621 at Plymouth, in what is present-day Massachusetts. Holiday images depicted pilgrims and Native Americans joining together to dine and celebrate the bounty of the harvest.
And while there is plenty of debate about the accuracy of the Thanksgiving narrative, these arguments are now somewhat mooted because the holiday itself has been overshadowed in recent years by the day-after sale known as Black Friday.
Given this shift, we’ve put together a video montage (above) of how TV ads and shows reflect the demotion of Thanksgiving from a holiday to a commercial opportunity.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, films and TV shows about Thanksgiving typically focused on family dinners and romanticized depictions of the original feast. It was mostly about being thankful.
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From the 1980s on, Thanksgiving became more of a retail holiday. Stores and other businesses began to treat pilgrims, Native Americans and turkeys as props for selling merchandise. In the 1990s and 2000s, this new emphasis took hold even more firmly until, by 2010, Thanksgiving was nearly entirely absent from advertising. In place of tradition, the words doorbusters, early openings and sales flooded every media outlet.
If anything, in 2013 commercialism surrounding Thanksgiving is even more pronounced. Because Thanksgiving butts up against the beginning of December this year, there are six fewer shopping days than in 2012. As a result, retailers such as Walmart (NYSE:WMT) and Target (NYSE:TGT) have been offering Black Friday preview sales and are set to open their stores on Thanksgiving Day. That decision didn’t come without consequences: Walmart employees in several cities, including Miami, Tampa and Sacramento, have gone on strike to protest having to work on a holiday.
With Black Friday Weekend upon us, the question anymore is less about whether the pilgrims and Native Americans actually dined together, or whether most of us have reason to be thankful. Instead, it is which of your friends got the cheapest deal on a sweater and who found iPads or BMWs at deeply discounted prices. Something to celebrate, huh?