Carving Into the Archaic Tradition of Thanksgiving Day

Photo courtesy of Mia Gant

In a euphoric victory for economic freedom in the United States, Walmart, Toys “R” Us, Sears, Target, Best Buy, Kohl’s and Kmart overwhelmed the defenses and occupied the former territory of “The Archaic Tradition of Thanksgiving Day” this week — opening stores or starting sales as early as 8:00 p.m. on Thursday to give Americans several hours head start on their shopping for Christmas, which is 33 days away.

This year’s store hours and sales were a bold advance over meek marketing practices of the past. In “the era of cowardly restraint,” retailers would open at 6:00 a.m. on Friday. Then, for years, they timidly inched their hours closer to Thanksgiving Day, opening at 5 a.m., 4 a.m. and then 3 a.m. until some bolder retailers moved their opening right up to the border – midnight — and crouched there, assessing the defenses on the other side.

Sensing only soft resistance, Walmart and others launched an incursion last year — beginning their holiday sales late on Thanksgiving Day — and this year, the whole happy group of stores (big box, little box, jack-in-the-box) marched in after them.

This means, of course, that each store makes its employees give up their Thanksgiving. (Do you think they appreciate the symbolism?)

Last year, Anthony Hardwick, 29, a Target employee in Omaha, launched a protest petition after he learned he had to begin a 10-hour shift at 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, which required him to sleep though the afternoon to be ready for his shift. He wasn’t optimistic, though. He told the Washington Post: “The economy is bad and so our employer has us over a barrel.”

The shoppers give up their Thanksgiving as well, of course. But that’s what they want — according to the retailers, who (apparently) speak for the shoppers.

One spokesperson for Sears says: “Our customers kept telling us they wanted more flexible Black Friday shopping hours.”

That sounds so loving. But if shoppers are on a tight Christmas budget, and the stores start offering deep discounts at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, does that give shoppers flexibility or take it away?

A spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation said: “Shoppers have shown us that they love wrapping up their Thanksgiving meals, grabbing their coats and going shopping.”

She must mean that they love wrapping up their Thanksgiving meals in a baggie. Last year, Javier Marin celebrated Thanksgiving by grabbing his coat and going to the mall at 4 p.m. on Wednesday so that he could be first in line 30 hours later to buy two TVs. He woke up Thanksgiving Day in a tent … outside a Best Buy.

The fact that shoppers would wait so long in line was welcome proof for the National Retail Federation spokesperson, who claimed: “There are millions of people who want to shop on Thanksgiving Day.”

Really? Start the deep discounts on Friday, and let’s see how many millions want to shop on Thursday.

Last year, as he watched the centuries-old cultural protections around Thanksgiving start to give way, a Georgetown marketing professor warned: “This is just the beginning. Next year, we’re likely to see everybody doing this … The guys with the first opportunity to get to somebody’s pocketbook are likely to take share away from their competitors.”

In these accelerating times, it’s hard to imagine any more urgent shortage than unhurried, unscheduled family time — and no season offers that time more than Thanksgiving. As we see this distinctly American tradition, more than 150 years older than the 4th of July, riddled and eroded by corporate profit-seeking, we’d be foolish not to reflect on how much our culture and traditions are now being shaped to accommodate whatever makes the most money for corporations.

What would it take to reverse this? A sense of priorities … a conviction that, for at least one day, there is something more important than money. For human beings, this is obviously true. For corporations, it is false, which is more proof (in case you didn’t know where this column was heading) that corporations are not people.

As long as we keep confusing the two, “We the People” will re-order our lives to serve corporations, rather than make them order their operations to serve us.

Merry Christmas Shopping.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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