The holidays: extra shopping or extra kindness?

Thanksgiving and Christmas are as far apart as they ever get. But instead of being a time for extra shopping how about a time for extra kindness?

Bret Hartman/Reuters
Two shoppers joke around while sitting with their bags of merchandise at the Los Cerreitos Center mall on Black Friday in Cerritos, Calif., Nov. 23. Black Friday, the day following the Thanksgiving Day holiday, is traditionally the busiest shopping day in the United States.

Thanksgiving Day in the United States came early this year – in fact on the earliest possible date (Nov. 22) on the calendar that it can occur.

That means Americans are now in the midst of the longest possible shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, 32 days. Next year, when Thanksgiving falls on Nov. 28, will offer only 26 days between the holidays.

Seasonal shopping has gotten off to a solid, if not spectacular start, retailers report. In recent years a new calendar filled with "shopping holidays" has sprung up to encourage ever more spending. This year Black Friday, the shopping day after Thanksgiving, oozed backward, with some stores open on the Thanksgiving holiday itself. Then there's Small Business Saturday (which encourages spending at local stores) and Cyber Monday, the day to look for bargains online.

Whether these new traditions, and the extra days before Christmas this year to spend shopping for gifts, will add to the total amount of holiday spending remains to be seen. In the early 1940s President Franklin Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November, hoping to spur holiday buying by adding a week to the season. But many Americans resisted the change to their traditional holiday. After little effect on sales was seen, Thanksgiving soon returned to the fourth Thursday of November, where it remains.

Yet another special day was on the holiday calendar last week, but with a different purpose. #Giving Tuesday, a project by nonprofit charitable groups, sought to carve out a day for itself when Americans could turn their thoughts to the less fortunate and pledge gifts to worthy causes.

On its debut Nov. 27 #Giving Tuesday seemed to have gathered momentum. People pledged more than $10 million, as well as volunteered time and donated goods, to some 2,000 nonprofits groups on that day. Some groups asked people who'd found a great deal on the previous Black Friday or Cyber Monday to donate their savings to charity.

#Giving Tuesday  (the "#" identifies it on Twitter) is trying to grab back some attention to a deeper meaning for the season from efforts to make it a month-long exercise in consumer self-indulgence.

Adding special shopping holidays to the season may or may not end up being good for business. But these promotions do little to foster the sentiments Americans really want to express: sharing, caring, and loving. These are sentiments of the heart that most exemplify the spirit of the holidays.

What we most need is a season of good deeds done with no expectation of recognition or reward. We need a season to pause and cherish and acknowledge our own and all efforts to promote peace and goodwill.

That's what fills empty hearts. And people need not be members of a certain religion, or any religion, to take part in that holiday joy.

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