Black Friday Shouldn’t Overshadow Thanksgiving Day

by Kyle Woodley | November 21, 2011 8:29 am

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[1]) store in September and seen wreaths and wrapping paper can attest to this.

Earlier and Earlier Openings

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.

No more.

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[2]) and Best Buy (NYSE:BBY[3]) 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[4] 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[5], 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.

Shopping Is Hardly an “Essential Service”

As a former newsroom copy editor, I know people not only have to work crappy hours on Black Friday, but some have to work on Thanksgiving Day itself. I had to. And if you’ve ever listened to a scanner, you know that policemen, firemen, hospital workers and other necessary services must continue to be staffed, because fires and injuries don’t take a break for the holidays.

But those are “necessary services.” And even arguably nonessential news services — while understanding their timelessly “daily” stigma demands some sort of presence — work with skeleton crews to minimize the number of employees affected, and they finagle production schedules to make the day’s hours more palatable.

Buying a 72-inch TV for $600, while exciting, is wholly optional. Shoppers get to a store at 5 a.m. in hopes of being first in line for the 6 a.m. “doorbuster” deals, knowing full-well the majority of the advertised deals can be had throughout the rest of the season. That shouldn’t be interpreted to meaning shoppers want doors to open at 5 a.m. It means consumers are doing whatever they can to buy more and spend less. Again, that bad economy.

Retail workers, who have been caught in this tail-wagging-the-dog crossfire, have a legitimate gripe. Thanksgiving is one of the rare national days off in a country that — despite the stereotypical perception — works its hands to the bone. It’s further distinguished as a gathering holiday. For many, it’s one of the few times each year people can visit with many of their relatives and friends at once.

People begrudging these workers a fair chance to observe the holiday because they want to head out at 3 a.m. for a $5 Norelco shouldn’t just reassess their idea of a good night’s sleep, but their life in general.

But even those unemployed workers with an ax to grind against these protests should consider two things: First, that those willing to work on Thanksgiving don’t necessarily have a better work ethic than those petitioning. It’s merely a regrettable reflection of a greater state of desperation. And second, if you hope that through tireless work you eventually can provide and later prosper, or if working on holidays becomes the norm for every industry, when do you plan on enjoying the fruits of your labor?

Thanksgiving is important both for what it represents and how we spend it. Let everyone enjoy it, and save the Target parking-lot fights for sunrise.

As of this writing, Kyle Woodley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned stocks. To support these workers (and to support getting up at a reasonable hour), sign Target’s petition here[6] and/or Best Buy’s petition here[7].

  1. WMT:
  2. TGT:
  3. BBY:
  4. launched an online petition:
  5. started their own petition:
  6. here:
  7. here:

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