Last week, an international student in my class declared that Thanksgiving is a terrible holiday — a time when people are killed. “What do you mean?” I asked, madly searching for some explanation. I recalled that suicide rates spike during the winter holidays, but I didn’t think that was it.
The student then explained that she’d learned about the origins of Thanksgiving and how it arrived amidst a virtual genocide of indigenous Americans. The other students and I had to admit that was true. This mortality-Thanksgiving connection is, indeed, part of U.S. history. Then, as the discussion continued, another student helpfully pointed out that it wasn’t just a dark spot in our past. In very recent memory, post-turkey shopping turned deadly. It happened again last year. The international student wasn’t at all surprised.
“Will you have a chance to experience a Thanksgiving dinner in the U.S.?” we asked the foreigner. Perhaps. She’d been invited to one, but said she feared to venture out of her dorm room that day. The international student was only half kidding.
Thankfully, the land of freewheeling shopping carnage is also the home of some brave alternatives. It started with Buy Nothing Day, and during our Thanksgiving discussion, I told the class about my favorite newcomers: Small Business Saturday (November 30 this year) and Giving Tuesday (which will fall on December 3). These community-focused events have become quite a force all over the country.
In D.C., the one-day push to buy from smaller businesses and support nonprofits has expanded. We had the five-day Museum Shop Around earlier this month and the Downtown Holiday Market will start later this week and run until just before Christmas. Then there’s Shop Local Week, featuring not one but four pop-up marketplaces with D.C.-made goods and a suggestion that participants shift 25 percent of their holiday shopping to small, local businesses.
In my own neighborhood, shoppers can choose from local artists’ crafts at ArtSpring any day, redeem what George Costanza gave a bad name at the Alternative Gift Fair on December 7, and turn flannel pants into super deals at local businesses during Pajamarama on December 8.
These Black Friday alternatives aren’t drawing mobs just yet, but that’s probably for the best.