On Thursday, American families will gather as has been done since 1621, to feast and give thanks for life’s bounty. Only this year, before the stuffing is even cold, they’ll rush off to stand at store entrances and be among the first to buy stuff to give to themselves and each other.
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Thanksgiving Day used to be the most sacred and American of our national holidays. It was not about political conquest, figures, movements or events like nearly all our other holidays. Thanksgiving Day was about family, reunion and expressing appreciation for each other and the bounty we enjoy as Americans.
Bit by bit, transaction by transaction, that’s changing.
For nearly all its existence, Thanksgiving Day has mostly avoided being tainted by commerciality. Admittedly, for a long time cartoon pilgrims and turkeys have appeared in ads, encouraging the purchase of dinner fixings or relating mildly to other sales occurring on or near the holiday. Though, commercial hype has mostly been attracted away from Thanksgiving Day by the commercial magnetism of Christmas. It’s hard to even think of a Thanksgiving Day song.
However, the commercial black hole created by the holidays has increasingly sucked the days and weeks from Halloween to Christmas Day into one inescapable shopping season. And now, it is consuming Thanksgiving Day.
Black Friday — the day immediately following Thanksgiving Day — has begun to cast its material shadow across the holiday. This began after buyers would camp out overnight, beginning on Thanksgiving Day, to be the first at store doors when they opened on Black Friday morning.
Retailers know that holiday shopping budgets are limited. The first store to get the sale keeps another from getting it. So, they announced early sales and too-good-to-be true offers, to get buyers into their stores, first.
Mad scenes resulted as buyers would run through the stores to be the first to buy a child’s favored toy, the newest electronic device or that too-good-to-be-true offer. Often, the supply of these items was limited, intensifying the buying frenzy. Shoppers would run over, threaten or fight one another to get the last of a given item.
Stores opened earlier… first, at midnight on Thanksgiving Day; then, at 8 p.m. This Thursday, some stores will open at 6 p.m. There’s even a name for what’s happening to Thanksgiving Day. It is being called “Gray Thursday.”
It won’t be long before Black Friday’s shadow has entirely shaded Thanksgiving Day in shopping darkness. Soon, Gray Thursday will be entirely black.
There’s no one to blame but ourselves. Our hunger for materialism has overcome any sense of perspective about the meaning of our holidays. Not a single national holiday has been spared the sound of cash registers ringing. All of them have become ways to spend money.
There was a time when Thanksgiving Day was different. We stopped shopping for a day to spend time with one another and give thanks for what we’d been given, rather than reach into our pockets to buy more.
Going back to the blue laws that prohibited merchants from doing business on certain days isn’t the answer. That inhibits freedom. To open or close their business as they like, should be the merchant’s choice. As, once you give a little power to a king, dictator or republic to tell you how to live your lives, where does it stop? Soon, every decision is made by authorities in your “supposed” best interest.
Instead, the best way to protect Thanksgiving Day from the commercial shadow being cast across it is — I regret to admit — for the retailers to schedule the biggest sales and early release of products on the weekend preceding Thanksgiving Day and voluntarily agree to keep their stores closed on the holiday in order to protect the sanctity and purity of Thanksgiving Day.
That would remove the incentive to open early on Thanksgiving Day, as the earliest sales would have occurred the weekend ahead of it. Black Friday would still remain as a big retail day, but without the same heightened frenzy and urgency.
Only our nation’s major retailers have the ability to save Thanksgiving Day. It’s time they act before we lose another tradition to the shadows of commerce.
John Poimiroo of El Dorado Hills is a travel writer who specializes in California destinations.