Localizing for holidays in a changing world

Localizing holidays thanksgivingSomething we don’t talk a lot about when we talk about localization is keeping up with changing cultural ideology. Thanksgiving is a prime example. Held the fourth Thursday of November every year in the United States, this year the holiday is celebrated tomorrow, and the days surrounding it are often treated as holidays as well.

If you’re marketing products for the US market, Thanksgiving could mean any number of things. For ecommerce, it might mean Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, and getting a jump on competitors by starting deep online discounts the evening of Thanksgiving. But that comes with its own set of complications: a subsegment of the US population dislikes commercializing a holiday built around sharing the simple pleasures of family and gratitude for what you have. Homemade apple pie from Grandma. Watching little Jane take her first bite of cranberry sauce, make a face, and decide she hates it. The uncles sharing a jug of hard cider made in the basement. Single auntie Fran trying to sleep on an air mattress in the TV room while Jane jumps off the couch and tackles her. Commercializing Thanksgiving leaves a bad taste in some people’s mouths.

And then, there is the question of whether to celebrate the holiday at all. Some argue that it represents the pilgrims taking the hospitality of Native Americans and repaying it with centuries of genocide, thievery and broken promises, and prefer to commemorate a National Day of Mourning or Unthanksgiving Day instead.

Others remember keenly during the holidays that they’re estranged from their families for any myriad of reasons. That they can’t go home because their parents have rejected them, or maybe because they just can’t handle Uncle Jim’s political rants anymore.

Thus, saying “if you want to localize for the US market in late November, be sure to acknowledge Thanksgiving and have a nice turkey theme” would be overly simplistic. And this goes for other celebrations around the world as well. Just because you figured out the best way to portray a multicultural holiday celebration last year, that doesn’t mean it will be the same this year or the year after. Traditions change. Cultural ideology shifts over time.


Katie Botkin
Katie Botkin is a freelance writer. She has a master’s degree in English with an emphasis on linguistics and has taught English on three continents.

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