By Kortnee With-a-K
(Photos NOT my own)
A recent petition posted on the popular website Change.org caught my attention. Employees of an extremely well-known mega-retail chain store are imploring their corporate employers to honor Thanksgiving Day. Apparently, due to the barrage of Black Friday consumerism and high profits, many retailers have opened their doors to shoppers earlier and earlier each year. Some stores open at midnight on Thanksgiving Day while others are planning to open their doors as early as 7:00pm right after turkey supper and a nap.
While the die-hard shoppers are sta
nding in the clearance section cheering, the employees of these retailers will have kissed their families good night and gone to work. These folks probably won’t get to toss a football around the yard with their cousins or play Monopoly with their nephews from Nesbitt. They’ll miss out on that extra plate of pumpkin pie and they definitely won’t get to help with the dishes! Instead, they’ll have gone to work for companies and bosses who probably tell them regularly how valuable they are as employees and that family is a priority.
Perhaps these companies do indeed believe these things to be true. Perhaps they truly know the importance of Thanksgiving
and time spent with family. Perhaps they understand that happy employees make better workers. But, perhaps the idea of record breaking one-day profits allows good moral decision-making to be put on hold for their greed to be satisfied. It’s just one day of the year, right? Besides, these are minimum wage employees we are discussing, right? Surely they KNEW that this was part of the job when they signed up?
Or perhaps, we the consumers bear some culpability. Perhaps it is our own hunger that remains unquenched even after gorging ourselves at the Thanksgiving table. Perhaps we are the ones who have fueled corporate America’s perceived need to open their doors as soon as we put down our forks. After all, it is us for whom they open the doors. It is “us” standing in line waiting for those giant glass doors to peel open, tapping our feet, “maxing out” our credit cards in our minds while staring anxiously at one another wondering if that short red-headed lady wearing the Christmas tree sweater in front of us will get the last one.
So whose fault is it? How did this parking lot chaos called Black Friday ever begin? Since the dawn of department stores and Thanksgiving Day Parades, the day after Thanksgiving has been titanic for both shop
pers and merchants eager to get a jump on the holiday season. Unlike today however, retailers “back then” agreed that Christmas advertising and sales wouldn’t begin until the day after Thanksgiving. (Strange thought; imagine Halloween without Santa.) This practice was the source of a seemingly unhistorical merchandising panic in Autumn of 1939 that changed our American calendar forever.
Little known fact: In 1863, Mr. Abraham Lincoln decreed that our national Thanksgiving holiday would be held on the final Thursday of each November. Prior to this, the tradition of Thanksgiving Day had been observed only sporadically and on varying dates throughout the country. Not only did this great man end slavery, he basically unified us in Thanksgiving! Now let’s fast-forward 76 years through time and across turkey covered tables to a nation struggling to climb out of the Great Depression. It is the Fall of 1939 and Turkey Day is fast approaching on November 30th, the very last day of November. Zealou
s retailers rattled by the short 24 remaining shopping days until Christmas were desperate for a way to stretch the calendar in their favor. Their solution was counter-intuitive to modern day politics. Instead of simply throwing plastic Santas and tinsel onto Halloween jack-o-lanterns like today’s merchants would’ve done, they had a much better idea: Ask the President to fix it. And he did.
In 1939,recognizing the economic merit of th
eir idea, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving Day to the third Thursday of November, thereby overturning Honest Abe himself. Needless to say, this created quite the controversy. While the retailers celebrated and stocked their shelves, twenty-three states went along with FDR while twenty-three states kept with Lincoln’s old tradition. Colorado and Texas, being wise and clearly loving pumpkin pie more than the others, celebrated BOTH! The confusion ensued until congress settled it once and for all in 1941. So began an American shopping boom that resonates even more loudly today.
Over the years, profits have soared and the holiday shopping tradition has taken on a life of its own. The term Black Friday, coined by
traffic weary police officers in 1961 Philadelphia, did not see widespread use until after the mid-1980’s. The digital age of Internet advertising and a media tidal wave carried the term “Black Friday” from sea to shining sea. What was once a derogatory term became a national holiday unto itself. The profit frenzy has continued over the years as consumers trample each other to buy Tickle Me Elmos and Play Stations.
Is this Black-Friday-world we live in a sign of progress or is it another example of a consumer culture drunk on entertainment and flying high on a media kite? I remember a time when stores were closed on Sundays; that was only twenty years ago. In our desire for convenience, have we lost our balance and perspective? Is our insatiable hunger for toys and our desire to keep up with the Joneses making us daft? How much is too much? When will enough actually be enough?
On Change.org there were several more petitions from numerous employees and their families concerning Black Friday. I read a dozen and signed a few. The amazing thing is that not one of these petitions even suggested that the stores should be closed on Black Friday. Not one. This money-spending tradition is time-honored and revered even by those who will stand on their feet for twelve hours straight. They simply want to wait until 6:00 a.m. on Black Friday to do so. They don’t want to go to work on Thanksgiving Day. I think that is fair and I believe both FDR and Abraham Lincoln would agree.
Why shouldn’t retail employees get to enjoy Thanksgiving Day with their families like the rest of us? If we could all slow down long enough to think about it, we might agree that the United States of Consumer America has gotten just a little bit warped. I’m even considering starting my own petition to shut down Black Friday completely. There isn’t one thing I must purchase on Black Friday that can’t wait until Saturday or even the following Wednesday. The day formerly known as Thanksgiving Friday is meant for eating leftovers and spending hard earned cash on Monopoly hotels.
Perhaps you disagree and already have your plans set to line up outside your favorite electronics store right after your second helping of pecan pie with extra whipped cream. If so, please don’t get trampled, smile at the other people in line, and then take a moment to be thankful for the stranger behind the cash register. Her mother might be at home doing the dishes wishing she was there before falling into a turkey induced coma.