As I type these words in the relative solitude of a sparsely populated newspaper office the day before the holiday itself, I think I can now safely predict that I may well survive another Thanksgiving week.
I always do, actually, but I usually conjure up a scenario or two every year in which perhaps I don’t.
For many reasons, Thanksgiving week is the worst week of the year for us here. It’s stuffed with early deadlines and extra work, and complicated by limited resources. Little surprises like snowstorms make it even more of a headache.
The resource part may be the hardest thing about all this. Thanksgiving is an ideal opportunity for people to turn a one-day paid holiday (I almost feel like Ebenezer Scrooge when I describe it so coldly) into a four-day, five-day or weeklong break. We always end up shorthanded. Thus, we need to do considerable planning and work in advance because, meanwhile, a lot of people we may need to reach may also be gone, so trying to get a hold of someone during this week for a story can be a crapshoot.
I can sometimes see it happening in real time. On Tuesday of this week, we received a flurry of emails that included not only press releases but also weekly items that arrived earlier than usual. This indicated people who are about to take long holiday weekends were clearing the decks before bugging out.
Thanksgiving week has some unique patterns to it, and when you’ve been at this as long as I have, you start to develop expectations and rituals that are now as much a part of the week for me as holiday dinners and wire stories about Black Friday shoppers run amok.
• Thanksgiving means we put out our biggest edition of the year, which is our Thanksgiving eve issue stuffed with flyers for Black Friday sales. I’ve noticed, however, that these editions have lost some heft in recent years. (To be fair, this week’s edition actually seemed a little thicker this year.) While some of this may be due to more online marketing — it’s happening with other newspapers, too — much of it here can be pinned on the loss of retailers like JC Penney, Kmart, Payless Shoes, Hatch Furniture and others, and the replacements have not kept up with those losses. That concerns me, and not just from a newspaper standpoint.
• Once upon a time, the Friday after Thanksgiving featured an intense afternoon at this office because Nebraska was playing football and half the people here were Husker fans watching or listening to it because there was usually a conference title and/or significant bowl implications on the line. That intensity has clearly diminished in recent years.
• It was once a tradition for a photographer here to get up very early on Black Friday and take a photo of the pre-dawn action at a store with shoppers lined up waiting to snag deals. Now, a few of those stores start their sales on Thanksgiving Day itself, and some do all-nighters. The early-morning photo-op seems pointless now.
• Hitting the Missouri Valley Model Railroad Club Open House for a photo always makes me feel like a kid again, which is weird because I never had a toy train set when I was growing up. Also, the club annually lists the event as being in the basement of the old JC Penney building, referring to the downtown location back in the 1970s. Now, unfortunately, they really need to specify WHICH old JC Penney building they mean.
• There’s nothing that feels so liberating and so unburdening as when our Thanksgiving eve issue, which requires an extremely early deadline, is shipped off to press and out of our weary hands on Tuesday night.
• One of the single best things about Yankton happens during this week, and that’s the Community Feast at Calvary Baptist Church on Thanksgiving eve. You’ll never come across any event in this town that is filled with more good cheer, fellowship and companionship. There are smiles, laughter and hugs everywhere. There’s a holiday joy that’s not difficult to spot and impossible to resist. From the volunteers to those who show up for free meals, it’s a marvelously uplifting thing to behold.
It also lets me know that I will probably survive the week. In a way, the memory of it sustains me for the other 51 weeks of the year, too. For that annual dose of medicine during this annually monstrous week, I’m always thankful, which is another holiday tradition.
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