Whither Thanksgiving?

There have actually been occasions when I’ve written because I’ve been wrestling with a particular issue and the process of writing has helped to clarify points and issues for me.  This is going to be one of those articles and yes, it does pertain to how a larger American practice is impacting the PracticalDad household.  Most specifically, do I go out for “Black Friday” Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving Day itself?

In the past two decades, Black Friday has taken on an entirely new focus in American culture.  I used to think that the term was a pejorative amongst shoppers and retail staff to describe the conditions that prevailed as people crammed into stores and waited in lines for special loss leader products; I later learned that it actually referred to the accounting ledgers of many retailers, who hung on at a loss through the year as they awaited the post-Thanksgiving holiday buying season and the chance to move into the profitable black.  As a kid, I knew that the folks would take us out on the weekend immediately after Thanksgiving for a Christmas buying spree but over the ensuing decades, that time span between the holiday and the shopping start has shortened.  My own experience with Black Friday began more than a decade ago when a close friend – my may-as-well-be sister invited me to join her for a pre-dawn excursion to shop for presents at a now-defunct mall toy-retailer.  This entailed getting to the mall at 330 AM to find a good spot in line for the 530 AM store opening; the other mall stores would open around 6 or 7 AM.  This began more than a decade-long tradition of grabbing the pre-Thanksgiving newspaper for the shopping ads, which she and my wife would study to find those items that might best work for the Christmas lists for the half-dozen kids that comprised our two households.  It became an exercise in the travelling salesman problem as we would split up lists and hit multiple locations and the cellphone made it a logistical effort worthy of transporting an army battalion.  As our kids aged and wanted to get into the act, this would be multiplied and we’d have four or more individuals in multiple locations, all searching out their particular item for another person in one of the two families and it became a rite of passage for the youngsters to join in the fray.  The culmination of the experience would be lunch with any combination of the two families before heading home for a return to regular activities.  When Youngest was finally old enough to come along for this established tradition, the rest were old enough that they’d moved beyond the toy phase and time had worked it’s natural change upon the process.

Time also worked its own change upon the larger process as the stores opened earlier and earlier and that 530 AM opening became an almost quaint anachronism.  More stores opened at 530 AM and earlier and then the push to be first moved the opening times even earlier into the early morning hours.  This has become a vicious cycle as stores – desperate for sales in an economy with a faltering middle class – continuously pushed the time envelope back further and further until only the other year when suddenly, stores were opening on Thanksgiving evening itself.  As I sit here and think about it, three of the stores at the forefront of the early Black Friday morning sale – KB Toys, Circuit City and Linens ‘n Things – now defunct; it would seem that the desperation by these dying retailers fed a frenzy that’s taken on a life of it’s own.  But there’s now a pushback as stores now purposefully advertise their willingness to let the employees have time with their families and people take note of the seeming callousness of the ones opening Thanksgiving Day.

So here’s the crux of the situation.  I agree that the stores should stay closed on Thanksgiving and hadn’t planned to go out until early Friday morning.  Yet both Eldest and Middle will be working on Thanksgiving Day – one at a mall retailer and another at a local restaurant – and my own family’s Thanksgiving meal is purposefully being moved up to an earlier time to accommodate the evening work shifts.  Youngest has also asked for a specific item that’s being sold as a loss leader at a retailer with a 6 PM opening on Thanksgiving evening.  He’s agreed that the item is costly enough that he’s willing to contribute to defray the total cost and now the question is whether I go to the retailer in an attempt to purchase the item.  Given that it’s a loss leader that would be far more expensive elsewhere, it’s certain that I’d also be leaving far earlier in order to stand in line.  So do I just acknowledge the practicality and give in to an already shot family Turkey Day or do I say no?

So that’s where I’m at.  But whatever is decided, I hope that you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  We’ll see what happens.

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