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Holidays: How the Retail Marketing Calendar Swallowed Patriotic Holidays

Updated on October 14, 2013

Why have our patriotic holidays (Memorial, Veterans & July 4) become so co-opted by consumerism? -- A HubPages Question asked by Danette Watt

The short answer is that a US marketing trend begun in the early 1800s advanced to encompass the fuil yearly calendar, with patriotic holidays serving as stepping stones into larger promotional sales schemes. Our country's heroes are still celebrated by family, friends, Veterans, and other grateful individuals and groups, but the glitter of Memorial Day Sales and other holiday promotions on that and Veteran's Day and the 4th of July tend to cloud the reverential respect in consumerist confetti...

Gas Prices Going Up

A prime example of consumerism and marketing is the rise in gasoline prices on Memorial Day Weekend. gas prices began to rise on the Wednesday before the holiday in 2011, as it does every year in my Midwestern State. Prices will remain 20 - 30 cents higher until late Monday.

How did trends like this begin?

Here is a downplayed sign for Memorial Day sales at a local hardware/home and garden store.
Here is a downplayed sign for Memorial Day sales at a local hardware/home and garden store. | Source

Retail Growth

American retail business began inserting itself into and co-opting US patriotic holidays at least as far back as 1839 - just 63 years after the United States won independence.

This is big change from 1777, when the country almost forgot to celebrate July 4th (see link below).

By 1840 (a pivotal retail year) the railroads were beginning to show potential for bringing in customers and holidays were already starting to center on moneymaking. Thanksgiving was not yet an official national holiday, but merchants were beginning to see its opportunities. One of these opportunitites was an advertising campaing that created a false story surrounding Plymouth and the First Thanksgiving, all created by one woman to increase retail sales - my ancestors were alive to see it take form and take hold of the USA. The story stuck and people celebrate it in American and Canada every year in the 2010s.

A link between Thanksgiving and Christmas 100 years later in the 1940s allowed the rest of the yearly holidays to be absorbed into a yearly marketing calendar. Retail sales drove the calendar.

Holidays are days in which many workers and students have time off and may feel like traveling or going out locally and spending some money. Merchants from grocers and coffee shop proprietors to Macy's and gas station owners grasp that opportunity.

In a society in which one car insurance company is represented by The General, it is not surprising for patriotic holidays to be co-opted. If retailers would donate a small portion of the day's or holiday weekend's receipts to veteran's rehabilitation centers, part of this consumerism could be redeemed from evil days.

For Memorial Day 2011 in particular, many documentaries were televised that featured young injured veterans with two artificial legs training for the Paralympics and local community teams, specifically to regain their health and confidence.

Can you imagine the riots that would have occurred had retailers held a Viet Nam Days Sale in the 1960s and 1970s? The streets might have run with blood, becuase that conflict was so unpopular.

However, it is easier to pull Veteran's Day, Memorial Day, and July 4th into a marketing plan, because they are more like catchalls, less personal, and seem to be about wars long ago and far away.

We don't have Hiroshima Day or D-Day Sales, either, but we do have sales on all these other major patriotic holidays.

This bunch of balloons over outdoor grills on sale is the only decorating this store did for Memorial Day. You can see the gardening mulch in the side view mirror.
This bunch of balloons over outdoor grills on sale is the only decorating this store did for Memorial Day. You can see the gardening mulch in the side view mirror. | Source

A Marketing Trend From 1800s America

It began with our US States' informal celebrations of Thanksgiving.

In 1840, a female marketing person increased business by inventing the Alternative First Thanksgiving at Plymouth (my ancestors were shopping at these stores). It included the false elements of black-clothed Pilgrims and a prayerful feast given by English families to friendly Indians who lent a hand to help them. This is all untrue, verified by at least the diary of one of the Englishmen at the meal. Moreover, Mr. Richard Greener adds that the bountiful foods did not even appear until 1637 - and only after Governor John Winthrop announced "Thanksgiving" to celebrate the return of colonial volunteer hunters. The Return was from the place that is now Mystic CT, in which the men, without provocation, massacred 700 of the Pequot Nation, including men, women and children. As it was, weeks after the 1621 non-event, Miles Standish had slaughtered a sizable number of natives already.

Not called Pilgrims, the self-named colonial Saints wore cheap, bright-colored clothing and brought kegs of beer with them on shipboard, but no crop seeds. Many of the men were drunk on Thanksgiving and one invited one native that brought all the meat with him, as well as 100 uninvited friends in an unexpected surprise. There was a lot of food. The Englishwomen baked squash puddings, and since the natives had helped them learn to plant and harvest corn, corn dishes as well. Some drunken Englishmen fired rifles into the air for fun, causing some unrest, but no casualties. Within a few weeks of the celebration, Miles Standish had slaughtered many Native Americans without provocation. But one woman's marketing erased all of that.

People believed the story and posters of the Utopian feast were hung in and near retail establishments in large American cities. Thanksgiving sales began. In fact, November's Veteran's Day was later swallowed by Thanksgiving marketing and is now included in Pre-Thanksgiving Sales as well as Veteran's Day sales - especially mattresses and cars in my area.

Veteran's Day is a stepping stone in the hive mind of consumerism, but that mind does not affect everyone. Families, friends, schools, and other veterans still celebrate. One thing I miss from the 2000s is the memorial concerts televised on patriotic holidays. Many cities and towns still hold their own concerts after parades to honor veterans on these days and this is commendable. Lots of people attend the parade, go shopping, and then attend the concert and picnic and talk to veterans. Pow Wows offer special celebrations on these days as well. All these activities can coexist, but marketing is firmly implanted into the mix.

Iroquois Nation
Iroquois Nation
Canada | Source

Marketing in the 1940s

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was approached by the head of F & R Lazarus and a coalition of retailers that urged a change in the date of Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the 4th Thursday inorder to create Extra Shopping Says 'til Christmas.

The annual Thanksgiving Day Parade in Columbus OH began that year to be held on the Friday after Thanksgiving, ending with Santa in his sleigh at the end of the line stopping right in front of the Downtown Lazarus Store's wide front door on High Street. All the followers on foot went right in. Today we have Black Friday, Buy American Made and Local Saturday (a very good thing), and special Monday sales following. Veteran's Day is a leg up on that horse with sales leading into to it..

Memorial Day is the day that swimming pools open and picnics and vacations begin. so stores have great sales. Some people still honor Veterans that weekend, but a great many go shopping or in our case, to the 3-day Marcon Science Fiction Convention or Asian Festival.

Memorial Day Sales extend into June, opverlapping July 4th displays up in April; and some Christmas retail displays are up by the 4th of July. Labor Day and Back to School Sales begin on July 4th and we throw Christmas in as well. In some Big Lots stores, you can't tell what holiday it really is, and July fireworks are on display there and in grocery stores in March.

Overall, early marketing in America created a year-around calendar of sales promotions and enough of the public and our International visitors partake in these to keep them going.

Honor and Thanks

We need to honor our service men and women everywhere, and recognize ROTC students and cadets in the Armed Forces Academies that plan to dedicate their lives; Veterans living and dead from every war fought on the North American Continent since Indigenous Peoples arrived; Veterans of wars in Europe, the Pacific, and Viet Nam; of Korea, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan; and the places our people fight of which we know nothing. Firefighters, police officers, EMTs and other rescue groups, forest rangers, our astronauts, and many in the clandestine services deserve our thanks as well.

I am thankful to ancestors that fought in the French and Indian War and all others through to Korea, and friends that have fought in all the more recent conflicts.


Promotional sales are part of our national holiday landscape, but they can coexist with our thanks to our nation's heroes.


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    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

      Came here through the question Danette Watt asked about the commercialism of holidays. This hub was a fascinating detailed read and thoroughly answered the question.

      I agree with your last sentence:

      "Promotional sales are part of our national holiday landscape, but they can coexist with our thanks to our nation's heroes."

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Patty, You've brought back memories of my childhood Memorial Days. We would spend our mornings visiting graves, weeding and planting flowers. The aftersoons would be community picnics and bbq's. It was all about remembering those who have served our country ande those who have passed. What a shame it has been turned into a commercialize, money making day.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I also found that the National Memorial Day Concert is still happening!! - Tonight, Sunday, at 9:00 PM EST on PBS. Gary Sinise (who founded the Lt. Dan Band will be one of the hosts.

    • KeithTax profile image

      Keith Schroeder 6 years ago from Wisconsin

      Americans have lost the meaning of most holidays in a rush to empty thier wallets to the delight of retailers. You provide a good perspective, Patti. I enjoyed your history of holiday marketing. As always, your writing is solid and your hubs informative.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thanks very much - enjoy your activities this weekend, whatever they may be. I'm looking for that local concert to attend - should be great. Happy holiday as you remember our heroes.

    • samsons1 profile image

      Sam 6 years ago from Tennessee

      Well written and a fitting reminder to not forget those who served in the military and especially those that sacrificed their lives so that we might enjoy these holidays with family and friends. Rated up and beautiful! Blessings to you and yours as you celebrate as well as remember the service men & women who died as well as those that still serve to keep America free...