Recently, I received an email that read, “Memorial Day is the perfect time to purchase our new favorite men’s products.” During Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Home Depot offered up to 40% off its bathroom department.
If holiday sales are a shot of tequila, our culture has collectively decided that it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere.
As a fan of bulk trail mix and Decathlon, I appreciate a bargain as much as the next person. Still, the growing tendency to turn every occasion into an occasion for shopping is displacing once-meaningful customs.
Memorial Day as we know it stems from Decoration Day — a tradition that developed during the Civil War in which people would gather to spread flowers on the graves of soldiers. During the first national observance in 1868, then-congressman, and later president, James Garfield asked a crowd at Arlington Cemetary, “What high motive led these men to condense life into an hour, and to crown that hour by joyfully welcoming death? Let us consider.”
Let us consider.
How did this annual pause for reflection on life, death, and sacrifice devolve into yet another 3-day super sale?
Brands and retailers rely on sales, and holiday promotions are a surefire way to boost them. Prior to the proliferation of large-scale department stores like Macy’s in the late 19th century, most people exchanged handmade gifts during Christmas. Buying stuff has become a hallmark of the Christmas tradition, which isn’t entirely bad — but not every holiday needs to follow suit.
If every occasion goes the way of Christmas, we’ll lose the unique personal and collective experiences that different holidays can offer. It’s possible that there’s room for thoughtfully observing a tradition like Memorial Day and going shopping, but there’s only so much time in a day — and perusing discounted appliances hardly counts as an acknowledgment of Dr. King’s legacy.
Between New Year’s sales, Valentine’s gifts, spring liquidation, Memorial Day blowouts, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and I-wanna-buy-that Wednesday, the pressure to shop can feel like a cattle prod nudging us to add more to our carts. As a trusted source of product recommendations, it’s tempting to seize every opportunity to partake and cut myself a piece of the holiday pie.
After all, if I help you readers find good deals and save a few bucks, it feels like a win-win — at least in the immediate term.
Still, as it becomes normal to publish a shopping guide for every significant date in the calendar, I’ve been wondering: When is enough? And, what’s the cost of perpetuating the trend?
This Memorial Day feels like a good time to draw the line.