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Toyotathon Is the Secular Holiday That Can Bring America Together

Time to recognize the reason for the season: discounted cars

It’s bad enough we’re about to wrap Year Two of the pandemic — now we have to wrap presents, too? At least at the end of 2020, when almost nobody had been vaccinated, it was sensible to stay home for the holidays and keep things low-key. (As I recall, I barely moved from the couch the entire day.) This time, pressure is on to make up for the celebrations we missed, stress levels are soaring and predictions of “packed flights” with “air rage” incidents have not assuaged any nerves. Topping this off, we have the usual dose of War on Christmas cable news clips.

Horrible. But what alternative do we have? It would have to be distinctly American, yet inclusive; singular, yet everywhere; charged with sacred meaning, yet an ode to secular consumerism.

Right, of course: I’m thinking of Toyotathon.

Toyota dealerships are hardly alone in holding a year-end sales bonanza, so why does Toyotathon — which traditionally begins in November and runs into January — inspire such reverence? 

Start with the ridiculous name: This isn’t a marathon in any sense of athleticism or endurance. Although the very first one, in 1969, did take place over a continuous 36 hours, these days the name is only a marketing catchphrase. The grandiose portmanteau, however, is awkward and fun to say, and obviously superior to the timid punning of “Happy Honda Days” or, worst of all, the generically commercial stuff like “Chevy End of Summer Clearance Event.” 

Toyotathon is, somehow, doing more than enticing us to lock in a low APR on a brand-new Corolla. It’s offering a period of reflection on where we’ve come from and where we might be going. Calling it the most important holiday in America makes us sound crassly consumerist, and to be quite clear, we are. On the other hand, most of us won’t visit a lot to shop for a car in the next couple months. In fact, the fixation on the corporate vibes of Toyotathon instead of the bargains it offers amounts to a parodic performance of capitalist behavior. It would be silly, or needlessly decadent, to upgrade your wheels every single year. Nevertheless, Toyota stays locked in an annual cycle designed to persuade you that this would be normal, and good. 

So we amuse ourselves by acting as if we’re a frenzied mob, each of us pushing to the front to catch a salesperson’s attention, rabid with the desire to drive a shiny Land Cruiser or Tacoma.  

It wouldn’t take much, in my view, to elevate this ironic observation of the season to a genuine cultural norm, one that works almost as a release valve for our excess year-end anxiety. No one can be offended when you wish them a Happy Toyotathon, since this carries neither a denominational assumption (like “Merry Christmas”) nor the historical baggage that makes Thanksgiving a non-starter for some. It’s a warm acknowledgement of the base reality we all share — a world blanketed with TV ads where the minivan of your dreams turns up in the driveway with a giant red ribbon on it — and a wink at the economic forces that created it.  

Thankfully, though, this occasion comes without a set of obligations. It’s also impossible to ruin with a canceled flight, burnt pie or family discussion of the current political climate. Toyotathon is a secular festival bigger than our disagreements and personal struggles. I’d certainly feel a wave of relief if you told me we were putting aside the usual customs, even for just this year, to bask in the soothing, dependable glow of an automotive brand. How much easier that would be. How much more honest! Yes, reduced down payments are my religion now. 

Hop in, we’re driving to the promised land.

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