A Happy Thanksgivukkah card from justWink by American Greetings.(Photo: American Greetings/USA Today)
Santa himself could probably sum up this holiday season in two words: Oy vey.
of the most topsy-turvy holiday seasons since the invention of the
shopping mall begins on Thanksgiving with Hanukkah. Wait, make that, it
begins on Hanukkah with Thanksgiving.
No, there won't be eight
days of Thanksgiving this year - or one day of Hanukkah. But the
confusion is understandable. This also is the very first holiday season
when Thanksgiving Day becomes the new Black Friday, except it's on
Holiday shoppers - and sellers - have another
headache: a serious seasonal shopping squeeze. There are, after all, a
scant 26 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which means
less time to buy and sell stuff - and less time to beg, bribe or
bamboozle consumers into diving for the deals.
"It might seem that
time is out of joint this holiday season," says Robert Thompson, pop
culture professor at Syracuse University. "But Pilgrims and Maccabees
make some sense as allies in the dining table centerpiece. Each fought
against the odds - and won."
So, who wins this holiday season: shoppers or sellers?
neither. The familiar 'Happy Holidays' greeting has arguably been
twisted this season into "Wacky Holidays." Never mind that the National
Retail Federation has projected that spending will be up 3.9% to $602.1
billion this year. That may be more prayer than prediction.
After all, the very look, feel and taste of shopping already is
off-kilter, with six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and
Christmas. The coincidence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah falling on the
same day - dubbed Thanksgivukkah - feels, to some, about as cosmically
stable as a dreidel on its last spin. And the remolding of Thanksgiving
into a shopping fest has even received the blessing of retailing's
unofficial papacy: Macy's.
Perhaps instead of moving Black Friday to Thanksgiving Day, it should have been moved to Wednesday - the day before Thanksgiving, suggests futurist Watts Wacker. "How else is one going to get a deal on the Hanukkah presents?" he wryly asks.
Crazy Christmas this year, for sure," says Marshal Cohen, chief
industry analyst at NPD Group. "Retailers are worried about this and
will promote all throughout the holidays to compete to get the
That's retailers like Toys R Us. The shortened holiday
calendar "has certainly put some challenges in front of us," says
Richard Barry, chief merchandising officer at Toys R Us. But the
retailer has been planning for this for more than a year, he says.
"R" Us has mapped out in excruciating detail special advertising,
marketing and merchandising plans for every single day between
Thanksgiving and Christmas. For competitive reasons, Barry declined to
detail even one day, but he says, "Each day has its own plan."
Sounds more like a war than a store strategy, no?
the things Toys R Us has done to get us shopping earlier: Its loyalty
customers received 10% back on toy purchases during September and
October via an e-gift card delivered just in time for holiday shopping.
Loyalty customers also received an exclusive e-mail offer, granting them
access to sought-after deals the day before Thanksgiving that aren't
available to the general public.
Kohl's concocted some savvy ways
to lure consumers in before Black Friday. Among other things, the chain
this holiday is selling something at deep, deep discount that almost no
one connects with the store: TVs.
For Thanksgiving evening, it is
promoting this door-buster: 32-inch TVs for $139.99. After the
holidays, well, it's yet to be decided whether the TVs stay in the
year-round merchandise mix or go, says Michelle Gass, chief customer
officer. It depends, in part, on how they sell.
The trick isn't
just to surprise the consumer but to "disrupt" the consumer's state of
mind by offering them things they never expected, she says.
consumers won't fully recognize how out-of-kilter the shopping calendar
is until they return to work on Cyber Monday - following Black Friday -
and realize it's already Dec. 2, says Barry of Toys R Us.
those trying to deal with the calendar crunch is Toni Bloomfield. She's
a stay-at-home mom in Columbus, Ohio, with four kids: boys ages 2, 6
and 9 and a girl who is 4.
On Thanksgiving Day, they'll all be at
the beach in Naples, Fla., with her in-laws. Although Bloomfield and her
husband are raising the kids Catholic, her in-laws are Jewish, so she
expects to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving
Then, after the kids are asleep, she just might sneak away to check out a Thanksgiving night sale or two.
I can't imagine is that people would spend Thanksgiving Day waiting in
lines to get into stores," Bloomfield says. "I wouldn't do that."
she already has done, however, is more than half of her Christmas
shopping. Last year, she hadn't done any until after Thanksgiving, but
because of the shortened holiday season and planned family travel, she
has rammed it into gear. The Bloomfield family will spend pretty much
what it did last year on gifts. "We have four kids, so if you get four
presents each, which makes 16 presents, it can get out of control."
too, could the efforts by some families to mold Thanksgiving and
Hanukkah into one big, happy holiday - particularly if the celebration
degrades into a debate about who got the biggest superstore deal.
that both celebrations are about giving, not getting," says Rabbi Rick
Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, a network of 900
Jewish reform congregations. And the giving part, he adds, is less about
stuff and more about friendship and thanks.
Which is precisely
why Leslie Frishberg, a homemaker and mother of two daughters ages 11
and 19, actually loves that Thanksgiving and the first full day of
Hanukkah are falling on the same day.
Because Hanukkah is so far
from Christmas this year, she says, the commercialism is almost certain
to be downplayed. And the combination of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah
means the family focus will be front and center, she says. "This is the
best of all worlds."
And, yes, she got all of her Hanukkah
shopping done early - without stepping into a single store. Frishberg
did most of her shopping on Amazon.com, she says. "I live in Brooklyn,"
she says. "Who wants to drag to the mall?"
The folks at Barnes
& Noble don't really care if consumers drag to the mall or buy
online, just so they turn to them early and often.
So eager was
the book-selling giant to jump ahead of the holiday curve, it opted not
to wait to hold its big seasonal bash on Black Friday or even on
Thanksgiving. Instead, it concocted a sale aimed at luring shoppers a
full week before Black Friday: Discovery Friday. The event tantalized
Barnes & Noble members with things like 20% discounts on the
just-launched Nook GlowLight, an e-reader with built-in front lighting.
purpose: "To give customers more time to kick-start their shopping,"
says Mary Amicucci, the chain's vice president for children's books.
So that's what it's come down to: a holiday kick-start.
Image, whose products are sold in Macy's and other stores, began its
marketing efforts 2½ weeks earlier this year than last year, says Dari
Marder, chief marketing officer at Iconix, which owns the Sharper Image
Marder's family, including three kids ages 16, 13 and 10,
celebrates Hanukkah, but they plan to focus on Thanksgiving the first
night. "We have so many nights of Hanukkah, but just one night of
Thanksgiving," she says.
Even then, she says, since she'll be
celebrating with her folks in Florida, the Hanukkah candles will
certainly be lit, "if my mother has anything to say about it."
Some rightfully feel wedged - this holiday in particular - between their families and their professions.
like Maureen Bausch. She's the executive vice president for business
development at the giant Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.
many, Bausch must spend a chunk of Thanksgiving evening at the mall
working. She loves her job, and she still gets a charge from the
excitement of holiday retailing. But in a perfect world, she concedes in
a moment of candor, "We wouldn't be open until Friday morning."
is not retail blasphemy. It's honesty. Many of the very same retailers
who will do almost anything to hit their sales goals this holiday also
yearn to be home with their families on Thanksgiving, she says. It's
almost impossible to do both. She points a finger at one culprit:
"If Amazon closed on Thanksgiving, it would change the
course of history," she says wishfully of the digital retailer that
encourages everyone to shop from home at any time. "If it closed on
Thanksgiving, everyone else would."
Of course, it won't.
this Thanksgiving, Bausch will find just enough time to share turkey
with her three children - and as many of her 33 other family members as
she can - then rush off to the sprawling 520-store mall, where some
shops will open as early as 6 p.m.
Her Thanksgiving pumpkin pie will have to wait, she says. "I'll be having dessert on Friday."