What happened to Thanksgiving?
What once was an entire season worth of anticipation toward family, friends, the meal of the year and watching the Detroit Lions get pummeled during the NFL’s traditional Turkey Day contest has been cut to practically just the holiday day itself — thanks to the ever-expanding “holiday season” that now sops up most of fall.
Now, Thanksgiving’s parasitic cousin, Black Friday, is threatening to finish the job on the back end. And the unlikeliest of champions — people who actually have a job in a down economy — are fighting back.
A bit of history: What you know as the “holiday season” once was three separate periods: Halloween season, Thanksgiving season and the original holiday season (celebrating the December holidays). Each was marked with varying home decorations and general anticipation (though Thanksgiving has lagged on the musical front).
The current holiday season calendar? Christmas decorations go on sale in September. People briefly adjourn to celebrate Halloween. Holiday season resumes. Thanksgiving Day is observed. Black Friday kicks off the remaining holiday stretch.
The Thanksgiving “season” has been all but whittled away, with most of the shaving (and attention) coming on the front end. Anyone who has been in a Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) store in September and seen wreaths and wrapping paper can attest to this.
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But the biggest threat to Thanksgiving Day itself has come from that most exhilarating of shopping days, Black Friday. This day celebrating cold-hardened, plastic-wielding warriors was, many years ago, happy to subsist on its own merit, never truly encroaching upon the grander holiday to which it was tethered.
We have all watched as retailers — always trying to get a leg up — have opened their doors further from sunrise. What for years was 7 a.m. slid back to 6, then 5 and so on.
The stores’ perpetually changing timetables had a logical effect — shoppers seeking the best bargains hit the hay earlier, and the people who had to actually work on Black Friday get less and less shut-eye.
So this year, when Target (NYSE:TGT) and Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) announced that their stores were opening at midnight this Black Friday, for employees who wanted a full “night’s sleep,” it would mean 5 p.m. bedtimes — sure to cut into the traditional Thanksgiving dinner time. And they finally pushed back.
About two weeks ago, employees at Target launched an online petition protesting the hours, which would require workers to clock in at 11 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, logging about 190,000 signatures as of this weekend. About a week later, Best Buy workers started their own petition, logging almost 14,000 signatures.
In a reaction not surprising given our current economy, some people (many unemployed) have lashed out at the protests, scolding that out-of-work people would love to have the jobs they’re protesting.
And I shudder at this mind-set.