It’s not “Black Thursday”, it’s THANKSGIVING

(With all due apologies to my friends in the Great North, I’m talking specifically about the holiday we Americans observe on the fourth Thursday of every November)

Something is beyond rotten in the retail world.

Once upon a time, it was amusing to watch dh’s cousin rip through the circulars on Thanksgiving, planning her shopping route and identifying where and when she needed to go to get THE HOT ITEM(s) of the season at 4am or 6am on Black Friday. Of course, I thought she was nuts: I just couldn’t see the point in getting up THAT early just to save a few dollars. Over time, there were more and more stories about people getting into fist fights over items, or people getting trampled as the crowds rush into stores when some imagined opening bell rang out at 4am. And then the starting time became midnight.


For those of you who haven’t worked retail before, let me explain how it works in a nutshell: in order for things to be on the shelves and displays so that you can paw through them with abandon, someone has to take those things out of the boxes in which they were shipped, check to make sure that items required to be tagged are tagged (and tag them, if that’s not the case), and then place them in their designated spot. There are no elves that do this for them. It’s not done by robots. And items DO NOT mysteriously, magically appear where they’re supposed to go without someone placing them there.

So, in order for a store to be ready at midnight, typically, employees will have to be on-site getting the store ready (and that’s a minimum of 30-60 minutes). So, you have people coming to a store NO LATER than 11pm on Thanksgiving to make sure a store is ready to go for a midnight open on Black Friday.

Now, let’s say that the stock has to be put out and there wasn’t enough time to get it all out on Wednesday. In that case, the employees may have to be there earlier – maybe even several hours ahead. So, let’s back that 11pm arrival time to…maybe anywhere from 8-9pm.

And now, let’s go even farther and say that you don’t live in one of the states like I do (the lovely Commonwealth of Massachusetts), and you have stores that are open on Thanksgiving. That means these folks are just plain missing it. Dinner with family? Nope. Traditional football watching? Forget about it. 

We celebrate Thanksgiving as a reminder of a time when we were thankful just to have survived even a small time on the land we were beginning to annex, and over decades Thanksgiving has come to be revered by many as a time to pause and visit with friends and family. But with the seeming unchecked consumerism that’s dominating our culture, Thanksgiving is turning into nothing more than an inconvenient holiday that stands in the way of Black Friday. The name used to refer to the fact that it was the day that retailers typically went “into the black” (turned a profit), yet now it’s coming to symbolize the color of our hearts – we’d rather spend our time drawing up battle plans so we can figure out how to get a game console for 50% off.

This is what we care about.

Even better, this is all done in the name of Christmas – a holiday that (if you read your Seuss, as I have) is supposed to be about something more. It’s supposed to be about spending time with loved ones and caring for others, not screwing your fellow man/woman – who makes a nickel over minimum wage – out of one of the few holidays he/she has a decent chance at actually celebrating.

To be sure, the people who work on holidays do get paid for their time, but it’s hard to say that the compensation is really paying them what their time is worth. If we, as a society, felt that it was important that everyone had access to decent wages, we’d probably be far less likely to have those who felt the pressure to take shifts they didn’t want (and anyone who thinks that all people who work on Thanksgiving WANT to work on Thanksgiving is completely deluding themselves). If we, as a society, are willing to say that some things are more important than the pursuit of the outrageously underpriced HOT TOY/CONSOLE/iTHING, then maybe we should give our friends and neighbors a break.

I know that the football I watch on Thanksgiving is put on by network staff, team players, team coaches and team staff who work on the holiday. I also know that the people who work in those stadiums and parking lots are working on the holiday. They signed up for that job knowing that working certain holidays was likely to happen. Police officers, fire fighters, EMTs, members of the military, people who work at gas stations and rest stops…these are also people who’ve signed on for the idea that they don’t get the usual days off that so many of us do. These other folks, the ones who are working retail, they’re doing this primarily because some corporate wonks saw a hole in their profit schedule and the rest of the lemmings followed suit.

So my point is this: we need to stop shopping on Thanksgiving. Just stop it. We shouldn’t have started in the first place. Black Friday is its own unique kind of nightmare that I’m refusing to participate in – and it’ll be a cold day in all the circles of Hell before I think it’s okay to stroll into a store on Thanksgiving to buy a $4 sweater from someone for whom that represented 30mins of their pay. That’s insane. That’s privilege of an order that’s beyond what’s okay.

If we want to declare Thanksgiving the start of the Christmas season, how about we really honor what Christmas aspires to be: a time when we consider the needs of others before those of ourselves. We all deserve better than to have every holiday co-opted in the name of the almighty dollar.

Black Friday BLACKOUT

Normally, I try not to go out too much on Black Friday – I realize that we’re encouraged to start our holiday season shopping as early as possible, so retailers can drain what’s remaining of our disposable income – but I often end up hitting a sale or two. I’m NOT the one who goes out for the sales that require standing in line at 4am or queuing up endlessly in a sea of hundreds, hoping to shove through the scrum to get to the two laptops that are actually at the price advertised in the sale flyer. Still, I haven’t ever really sworn off Black Friday: until now.

Enter Target – a store where I shop early and often. While I was shocked to see a gigantic sign on the side of a Kohl’s that advertised the store opening at 1am (really people? 1 AM?!), I was horrified to hear that Target was opening at 12:01am. Even worse, other stores are opening even earlier – backing Black Friday up into Thanksgiving day.

It was at this point that I just snapped. I won’t boycott Target; I’d much rather boycott the entire day. Here, you have merchants in an arms race to see who can open earlier and earlier until the Thanksgiving holiday turns into a quick turkey sandwich at 2am before you have to rush out to meet the shoppers who want to get the deals before they watch the Cowboys beat the snot out of some poor, unsuspecting team.

So, I decided to make my own Black Friday special: the Black Friday BLACKOUT.

I want to encourage everyone to skip the stores. Skip the sales. Show merchants that you want them to return to some semblance of sanity and treat their employees like REAL PEOPLE DESERVING OF A HOLIDAY by not shopping. Then, instead of heading to the mall, either pop open your laptop or head to the grocery store. Donate at least $10 to your local food pantry. Why? Well, any time of year is a good time to donate to a food pantry, but winter is a particularly hard time for a lot of families to cope, especially when it’s a choice between food or presents. I don’t know whether I’ll have time to leave the house on Friday, since I’m deliberately skipping the sales and choosing to bake and hang out with the family. If I make it out, I’m only going to the grocery store to get canned and boxed goods to donate. Otherwise, I’ll just donate online. I’m a particular fan of the Greater Boston Food Bank.

Want to join me? It’s easy.

Here’s what you do:

1. Agree not to take part in Black Friday madness – vote with your feet!

2. Promise to donate either food or $$ (min. $10, if you can manage it) to your local food pantry. Note that many houses of worship also run food pantries, and they can direct you to others as well. Otherwise, just hit up Google Maps and search on “food pantry near” your town.

I’m not saying don’t shop for holiday gifts. I’m not saying that you should snub local merchants, either. My point is that these retailers are freaking out and forcing people to work insane hours in the service of greed, not the “holiday season”. If enough of us choose NOT to participate in Black Friday madness, maybe they’ll change their minds. I’ve worked plenty of retail in my day, and the thought of having to skip Thanksgiving with my family because it’s either that or lose my job…well, that’s just crap, and I refuse to support anyone doing that to their employees.

Who’s with me?