A Spread-Out Shopping Season

“Black Friday” has come and gone, without a lot of the reports of shoppers pummeling each other or trampling security guards in a rush to get the special deals being offered on big-screen TVs or the hottest new toy. That’s because American shopping patterns appear to be changing, again and probably for good, and “Black Friday”–the day after Thanksgiving that had become the traditional madhouse start to the holiday shopping season–is becoming less of a focus.

CNBC is reporting that while shopping on Black Friday increased over last year, when many retailers operated on reduced hours due to COVID, in-store shopping was down 28 percent from 2019’s pre-pandemic levels. There was even a decline in on-line shopping on Black Friday, with retailers ringing up $8.9 billion in sales compared to $9 billion in 2020. And shopping traffic on Thanksgiving itself, when some retailers opened their doors, was down 90.4 percent from 2019 levels.

Analysts cited by CNBC believes that shoppers are spreading out their holiday shopping more than ever before and identified two reasons for the trend and the related drop-off in Black Friday traffic: continuing concerns about COVID and worries about the supply chain. A survey conducted by the National Retail Federation supports the “spread out” hypothesis. It found that 61 percent of American began their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving.

There’s no doubt that some people are still quite worried about the virus, and media reports on supply chain issues and potential shortages have likely had an impact, too, but I think the reason for the shift away from Black Friday madness has two other causes as well. One is earlier than ever holiday-themed commercials and retailer special deals (and holiday programming on outlets like The Hallmark Channel) that have served to remind people that Christmas is coming, and the other is a more fundamental shift in how to shop. During the height of the COVID pandemic shutdowns, even the most hardened in-person shoppers learned that they could basically do all their shopping on-line. When you see a special deal on TV in the weeks before Thanksgiving that you think would make a good gift and your computer is at your elbow, why wait to make your purchase?

I think the new approach might be something like this: start your shopping on your computer before Thanksgiving, take stock of the status of your shopping list when the boxes start hitting your doorstep, and then venture out to the brick-and-mortar stores in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the Black Friday madness has petered out, to fill in the gaps, get the stocking stuffers, and take advantage of any last-minute sales. Whether that scenario is borne out or not, we know one thing: the American consumer is flexible and always willing to try a new approach.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I’m a big believer in specifically identifying at least some of the many things I’ve got to be thankful for, and then reflecting on them when Thanksgiving Day rolls around. Here’s this year’s list:

  • I’m thankful that I and the other members of my family made it through the last, star-crossed year in good health.
  • I’m thankful for the family, friends, colleagues, and clients who have added color and dash and interest to every one of the 365 days that have passed since last Thanksgiving.
  • I’m thankful that I have happy memories of Thanksgiving days gone by that I can recall with pleasure, like the little wax turkey candles (like the ones shown above) that Mom put out on the dinner table when we sat down for our big meal.
  • I’m thankful that, this year, our extended family will be able to get together to celebrate Thanksgiving as families ought to do, after skipping last year due to the COVID pandemic.
  • I’m thankful for the fact that the apparent supply chain problems won’t keep us from enjoying turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and a slice or two of pie today.
  • I’m thankful for living in a free country where my friends and I can agree to disagree, even about crucially important things like appropriate Thanksgiving pies.
  • I’m thankful for the people who laughed at my jokes, for those who gave me the benefit of the doubt from time to time, and for the kind words, the compliments, the encouragement, and the attaboys that helped me make it through every day.
  • I’m thankful for the people who take a few moments from their day to read my random thoughts on this blog, post likes, and leave comments.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks!

Cherry Pie (And Other Odd Family Thanksgiving Traditions)

Yesterday at lunch, the Bus-Riding Conservative, JV and I got to talking about the Thanksgiving family meals we enjoyed as a kid. Thanksgiving is one of the most tradition-bound celebrations in the pantheon of American holidays, and you could tell that everyone participating in the conversation was enjoying their memories about their particular Thanksgiving family food rituals.

Until, that is, both the BRC and JV shocked me by saying that it was traditional for them to have cherry pie as part of the Thanksgiving meal. That really stopped me cold. Pumpkin pie? Obviously! Pecan pie? Of course! Apple pie, or mincemeat pie? A bit on the edge perhaps, but . . . acceptable. But cherry pie? Cherry? Shouldn’t the only red fruit served on Thanksgiving be cranberry?

Then I realized that I was being unfair and improperly judgmental. The strength of America lies in our diversity, and our willingness to embrace and value differences–even if it involves something as basic and beloved as Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t particularly care for cherry pie. In fact, I find it rather cloying and would never voluntarily order it. But I’ll defend to the death some family’s right to install it as a treasured Thanksgiving family tradition. And upon reflection, I’m sure that some of our family traditions, like the cranberry relish plopped out directly from the can so that it can be sliced with a knife with only a sprig of parsley as a garnish, might strike others as a bit odd.

So let those special Thanksgiving traditions run free! Jello molds with embedded grapes? Hell, yes! Tofurkey? Why not! Squid on a stick for an appetizer to go with the early football game? It’s just another thing to be thankful for.

The Last Day Of The Four-Day Weekend

There’s a special quality to the last day of the four-day Thanksgiving weekend holiday. Those of us of a certain age remember working on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but those days are long gone for most white-collar workers. Now it’s generally accepted that we’re looking at four solid days off. And frankly, by the time late November rolls around, we can use a four-day holiday — this year especially.

Each day of those four days has its own identity and personality. Thursday is all about The Meal and the excitement surrounding it. Friday is devoted to regretting your Thanksgiving overindulgence and catching up with your guests. Friday is the day for meaningful conversation. By Saturday, everyone has settled in and caught up; Saturday is a day for just enjoying each other’s company. And when Sunday rolls around, the goal is to wring every last drop of enjoyment out of the holiday weekend before it regrettably comes to a close.

This year, the four-day weekend seems to have been quieter and simpler. There may have been some Black Friday shopping sale craziness somewhere, but if so there wasn’t much of it. 2020 has sucked in more ways than we can count, but it least it has discouraged people from going out and engaging in brawls with other shoppers trying to get that last big-screen TV on sale. This year, Thanksgiving seems to have gotten back to its family-oriented roots.

Enjoy Day 4. We won’t see it’s like again until Thanksgiving 2021.

Refrigerator Envy

On Thanksgiving, everyone could use a large, empty refrigerator that is about twice its normal size. You know — a refrigerator that is large enough to allow you to retrieve a can of Diet Coke without risking knocking over multiple aluminum-foil covered bowls, serving dishes, and gravy boats that have been carefully stacked and balanced to consume every square inch of scarce refrigerator space?

Why can’t somebody invent an expandable refrigerator that you could use for the holidays? Like dining room table manufacturers did years ago, when they figured out that you could design tables to be extended so as to include an extra leaf or two when needed? Ideally, the expandable holiday refrigerator would include a special pie storage area, a beer bottle rack that would project out when the door is opened, and an extra large storage area to carefully secure all of the leftover turkey that will be used over the coming week.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! Or, as it will also be known in our household this year, happy Big-Ass Pie Day, as Kish bought a super-sized pumpkin pie for us to gobble down as part of the festivities.

Hey, if there ever was a year where you could justify an extra portion of pumpkin pie, without guilt, it’s 2020. And some extra whipped cream, too.

When The Kids Come Home

We’re pretty excited in the Webner household today. Tonight — the airlines, coronavirus pandemic, and any federal, state, and local authorities who want to have their say willing — we’ll have Richard, Julianne and Russell under our roof with us for the first time in a year, since Thanksgiving weekend 2019. And what a year it has been!

It’s kind of hard to describe what a happy — elated, really — feeling it is to see your kids in person after a long absence. Video conferences and phone calls and following Twitter feeds are fine, but there’s nothing like actually sitting in the same room with your grown children, rediscovering how they look since the last time you saw them, observing them interact with each other, and engaging in the kind of idle chatter that allows you to really catch up with how their lives are going. You want to see first hand how they look and how they sound and how they act. I’m looking forward to the walks and card games and kitchen and dinner table conversations where there is no specific agenda and the discussions can wander into whatever random areas might enter into the conversational flow. Those are simple, but real, pleasures.

For us, as I suspect is the case for most long-distance parents, the urge to see your kids face-to-face is heightened when a global pandemic rages and has ruined prior efforts to get together. In our case, COVID-19 wrecked multiple prior planned visits over the past year, and I know that it has affected the plans of some families that were hoping to reunite for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. We’re hoping the stars align for us this time.

And if they do, tomorrow we’ll all gather around the dinner table, welcome UJ to join us, pass around the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes, celebrate a classically American holiday, and simply enjoy each other’s company. We can’t wait!

Last Piece Of Pie Lament

It was a fine Thanksgiving holiday, marked by good food, good company, and another glorious win over That Team Up North.  But as the weekend drew to a close, one last piece of culinary temptation remained, to remind me of one of my weaknesses:  I’m helpless in the presence of pumpkin pie.

Last Piece Of Pie Lament

O get thee gone, last piece of pie!

I can’t resist you and I don’t know why!

I’ve gobbled taters, stuffing and turkey

So much the details seem quite murky.

Yet still with you temptation remains

And once more my willpower strains.

Is it the spice, or the moistened crust

That reduces my resolve to dust?

Or the sweet memory of pies gone by

That causes the impulse I can’t deny?

Whate’er it is, I know I’ll succumb

And have to finish every crumb.

You’ve won again, and your crusty ilk

So now I’ll eat you with a glass of milk. 

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Every Thanksgiving, I tend to think of childhood celebrations and family members who are no longer with us.  Uncle Tony, for example, liked the heart and liver that used to come with the turkey (which struck us kids as pretty disgusting, incidentally), so they would be cooked and set out separately for him.  Dad had a cool bone-handled carving set which featured an enormous knife and knife sharpener, which he would scrape together to make sure that the knife was as sharp as possible for the crucial turkey carving step.  And Mom liked to put little wax candles at every place settings — pilgrim boys and girls in their pilgrim garb, and these little wax turkeys, which were my favorite.

I suppose Thanksgiving is all about enjoying family memories.  May you and yours create some fine new memories today!

When Do You Eat?

Most families have their own unique Thanksgiving Day traditions.  Sometimes the traditions come in the form of a special food — like Aunt Sue’s candied yams, or Uncle Frank’s oyster stuffing — but other traditions may involve who gives thanks, who sits in which seat at the table, and who carves the turkey.  One tradition that often differs from family to family is:  when do you eat the primary meal?

us-thanksgiving-me_3510533aI say “primary meal” because, in our household, Thanksgiving Day typically involved pretty much uninterrupted eating, from stem to stern.  There was the initial breakfast period, followed by the light grazing period, the heavy grazing period, the meal itself, and finally the irresistible post-meal, belt-loosened extra piece of pumpkin pie or leftover turkey sandwich while watching the last football game of the day.  So, just to clarify, here I’m talking about the table-groaning meal where you actually sit down together, eat the freshly carved turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and a few rolls, and take a slice of the cranberry relish that still is in the form of a can because somebody has to do it.

In our family the primary Thanksgiving meal came at roughly 4 p.m., depending on whether the turkey was done.  The meal was strategically positioned between the end of the first football game broadcast and when the next game started to get interesting.  At our house, that timing of the meal was so deeply engrained that it never occurred to me that you could eat your Thanksgiving meal in any other time slot.  When I later realized that some people ate at noon, or 2, or (horrors!) 6:30, it was an astonishing revelation.  And I often wondered how you could move the meal and still fit in the other parts of the Thanksgiving Day festivities, like watching the parades, the various grazing periods, the backyard touch football game, and the evening card games.

So, when do you eat?  And if you doubt that the timing of that primary Thanksgiving meal is a tradition, ask yourself why you eat when you do.  If your honest answer is a shrug and the response that you’ve always eaten at that time, that sounds like a family tradition to me.

When Christmas Comes Early

Normally I hate the too-early anticipation of the Christmas season.  When I  walked past a Starbucks this week and saw that the outdoor sign was advertising all of the sugary Christmas concoctions, I groaned.  When I walked past St. Mary Church and saw that they were setting up the Christmas tree holders for their annual Christmas tree sale, I groaned  again.  And when I saw that the Hausfrau Haven was selling egg nog, I groaned still more — and also felt a little sick to my stomach at the thought of the coating, cloying taste of egg nog, because I really don’t like egg nog.

IMG_9059In my book, Christmas shouldn’t be anticipated until Thanksgiving is over, period.  I know that some people can’t resist jumping the gun, and have already started listening to Christmas music. wearing red sweaters with reindeer on them and watching the saccharine Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel, but I’m not one of them.

I do make one exception to my no Christmas before Thanksgiving rule, however.  If I see that Great Lakes Christmas Ale is for sale, I’ll always pick up a six pack, whether Thanksgiving has passed or not.  The Great Lakes Brewing Company can be depended on to brew a high-quality, spicy, holiday ale that Old Fezziwig would have loved.  I picked up some of this year’s batch yesterday, and it’s excellent — packed with flavor and a little holiday dash, besides.  After savoring a bottle, I felt more in the Christmas mood already.  Hey — when is the first showing of It’s A Wonderful Life, anyway?

If you like a seasonal brew, I highly recommend this year’s edition of Great Lakes Christmas Ale.  But be forewarned: consistent with the generous spirit of the holidays, it comes in at 7.5% alcohol by volume.  Pace yourself, or you might not be able to finish trimming the tree.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

This Thanksgiving, I’m especially thankful for:

• My wonderful wife;

• The good health and good spirits of my family and friends;

• A fine Thanksgiving meal with family that will be (hopefully) without any trace of rancorous political arguments;

• Being free from the want, worry, and oppression that troubles so much of the world;

• The many excellent books, films, and TV shows I’ve enjoyed this year, and the creative spirits who produced them;

• The opportunity to watch the Ohio State Buckeyes break more than a few Michigan Wolverine hearts this Saturday;

• The kind words I’ve received from faithful readers of this blog;

• That pre-Thanksgiving piece of pumpkin pie I snuck last night; and

• This chance to count my blessings on a chilly but peaceful Thanksgiving morning while drinking a hot cup of coffee and listening to some baroque music.

May everyone celebrate a similarly long list of things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

Turkey On The Road

With Thanksgiving only two days away, many Americans are bracing themselves.  They know that, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, or maybe — God forbid! — on Thanksgiving itself, they will hop into a car and try to drive to Grandma’s house through the gnarliest, most soul-crushing gridlock imaginable.

1009114412-turkey-klein-14-1260x800The venerable American Automobile Association is predicting that this will be the worst Thanksgiving travel week ever — which is really saying something.  The AAA forecasts that 54.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from their homes this Thanksgiving, which is almost five percent higher than last year.  And if you’re one of those lucky  travelers who lives in a select American city, the AAA is even offering guidance on which route at which time will encounter the heaviest traffic and the longest delays.  According to the AAA, for example, if you leave San Francisco between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Wednesday and take I-680 north, you can expect 4 times the normal travel time between exits 8 and 21.  In most cities, the worst delays are expected to occur today, between 5:30 and 7 p.m.

Over the years Kish and I have occasionally traveled around the Thanksgiving holidays, and we’ve always deeply regretted it.  The worst incident occurred when we tried to drive from Columbus to Vermilion one Thanksgiving Day and got stuck in a massive traffic jam on I-71, which was like a parking lot.  It took hours to inch along, and when we finally arrived nobody had the placid, Pilgrim-like calm you hope to achieve on Thanksgiving.  If I recall correctly, the pre-meal backyard football game that year was a tad more aggressive than usual.

This year, I’m extremely thankful that I’m not driving anywhere outside of Columbus.  For those of you who will be on the road — well, good luck.

Now Comes Michigan Week

Most Americans think of this as Thanksgiving week, when it’s time to give thanks, embrace our common humanity, and be generous to our fellow man.

Not so in Buckeye Nation. As soon as Ohio State eked out an overtime win over a feisty Maryland team yesterday, Ohio State fans breathed a sigh of relief, wondered what in the hell happened to the Ohio State defense this year, and then immediately thought: “It’s Michigan Week.”

Michigan Week used to be the week before Thanksgiving week, but a few years ago the Big Ten changed the schedule and moved The Game to the Saturday after Turkey Day. I wish they hadn’t, because bloodthirsty thoughts don’t fit comfortably into the expected Thanksgiving mindset. Before, Buckeye fans could hope to kick the ass of That Team Up North, watch The Game, and then after the violent clash ended shift gradually into pleasant, huggy Thanksgiving mode. Now we think about breaking Michigan hearts right up to the point the turkey gets carved, piously give thanks while we’re really pondering crushing tackles and Statue of Liberty plays, and then after the plates have been cleared abruptly return to full Michihate mode for the remaining hours leading up to the tilt with the Maize and Blue.

It’s jarring, to say the least. But hey — it’s Michigan Week!