Friday, November 7, 2014

And the War on Thanksgiving Continues

Last year a number of retail stores generated controversy by either opening on Thanksgiving or by starting their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving. Among these stores were Target (which opened at 8:00 PM), Kohls (which opened at 8:00 PM), and Macy's (which opened at 8:00 PM). KMart opened at 6:00 AM, although it must be pointed out that this was nothing new for them. They have opened on Thanksgiving for the past 23 years. WalMart also has a "tradition" of being open on Thanksgiving, although they caused controversy by starting their Black Friday sales at 6:00 PM.

Unfortunately, while there was a good deal of controversy over stores either opening or starting their Black Friday deals on Thanksgiving last year, it seems many stores plan to do the same thing this year. In fact, some of them are opening even earlier. Both Kohl's and Macy's, which opened at 8:00 PM last year, are opening at 6:00 PM this year. J. C. Penney, which opened at 6:00 PM last year is opening at 5:00 PM.

Of course, the fact that stores will actually be open on Thanksgiving is yet another volley in what has become the retail industry's war on Thanksgiving. Long ago it seemed many retailers were determined to reduce Thanksgiving, long a holiday all its own, to simply an extension of the "Christmas shopping season". While the term "Black Friday" for the day after Thanksgiving did not gain currency until the Seventies, the day was regarded as the first day for Christmas shopping as early as 1907 (that year The Evening Times of Cumberland, Maryland made reference to shopping on the day after Thanksgiving).  Indeed, while we think of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as a Thanksgiving tradition, it began in 1924 as "Macy's Christmas Parade". It was renamed "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade" in 1927.

The idea of the day after Thanksgiving as the first day of the Christmas shopping season would even have an impact on the date when Thanksgiving was held. In 1939  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving from the last (and that year, fifth) Thursday of November to the fourth Thursday of the month in order to create a longer Christmas shopping season. The move proved controversial and in 1941 Congress established the fourth Thursday of November as the date of Thanksgiving in something of a compromise.

Or course, while the day after Thanksgiving, currently known as "Black Friday", has long been the first day of the Christmas shopping season, it has only been the past few decades that Thanksgiving has seemed in danger of being overtaken by Christmas. Even though the Christmas shopping season began the day after Thanksgiving, it was a rare thing to see stores put up Christmas decorations, much less see Christmas oriented commercials, before December. Over the years this has changed. It was many, many years ago that one started seeing  the first Christmas oriented commercials on the day after Thanksgiving or even on Thanksgiving. It was several years ago that the first Christmas oriented commercials started airing in early November. Now a few of them air even before Halloween has passed.

Given the phenomenon of "Christmas creep", in which retailers began advertising for Christmas at earlier and earlier dates, it was perhaps only a matter of time before retailers sought to begin the Christmas shopping season even earlier. Namely, rather starting the shopping season on Black Friday, starting it on Thanksgiving itself.

I personally find the whole phenomenon of stores being open on Thanksgiving depressing, distasteful, and offensive. The fact is that Thanksgiving has a long tradition in what would become the United States. The first Thanksgiving feast celebrated in the Thirteen Colonies was on December 4, 1619 by the settlers of Berkeley Hundred in Virginia. Another more famous Thanksgiving feast was later celebrated by the Pilgrims at Plymouth at some time between September 21 and November 9 of 1621. Annual Thanksgiving celebrations in the Thirteen Colonies were begun in Connecticut in 1639 and the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1680. It was President Abraham Lincoln who officially recognised Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863. It has been a national holiday ever since.

As a particularly old holiday Thanksgiving developed its own traditions, most of which centred around the family gathering together for Thanksgiving dinner. Indeed, perhaps no other American holiday is as centred around food and family as much as Thanksgiving is. Unfortunately, if retail workers are required to work on Thanksgiving, then they obviously cannot be home enjoying turkey and pumpkin pie with their families. Quite simply, in being open on Thanksgiving many stores are then robbing many families of what is one of the biggest holidays in the American year.

Now I realise some people will claim that they have a right to shop on Thanksgiving and that stores have a right to be open on Thanksgiving if they choose. I am not going to argue with either of these. That having been said, I also believe people have a right to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families on Thanksgiving, not that Saturday or that Sunday. If stores are going to be open on Thanksgiving, then, I would say that they should be staffed only by people who have volunteered to work that day. No one should be required to work on Thanksgiving. If the stores cannot get enough volunteers to work on Thanksgiving, well, then they simply cannot open.

Unfortunately I worry that stores will continue to open on Thanksgiving for the foreseeable future. As long as there are people willing to shop on Thanksgiving, the stores will continue to be open then. For those of us who think Thanksgiving should be for family and not for shopping. I can only suggest that we do not shop at stores who open on Thanksgiving. Fortunately there are a number of stores that do not do so and we might wish to give them our business instead. Costco, Lowe's, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom all close for Thanksgiving. It is stores like these that should be rewarded, not those who think greed outweighs family time spent together on a major American holiday.

1 comment:

KC said...

Interesting post. I didn't know the specifics of how Thanksgiving to be. The variance in dates is pretty wide! I've found that the stores that stay open on Thanksgiving tend to be places I avoid anyway because of other things that I find objectionable. If they're not responsible in one way, they're bound to have lots of other problems. And you're right, not shopping there is the best way to make a difference.