The War on Christmas jumped a few places in line and has returned to us early (perhaps this social “war” has come about earlier to meet with the progressively premature Christmas displays in shopping centers). Fox News and the like remind us that “secular” society is trying to push Christians into the proverbial basement all while forcing them to mute the satanic “season’s greetings.” Surely, predictable scandals will result; some city will remove their nativity scene and a local school will ask children to bring non-denominational cookies for consumption (sugar-free and organic knowing today’s administrators). This “war” will have no absence of horrors.
Most of us will see this nonsense as nothing more than an overreaction by conservative media pundits in need of content. All the while, a real cultural battle rages over the quintessential American holiday: Thanksgiving. Rather than focus on the use of acceptable holiday symbols and terminology, this cultural battle is at the heart of our nation’s moral fiber when it comes to the conditions we expect the working man and woman to subject themselves to.
Black Friday, much like Thanksgiving, is as American a holiday as one can imagine. The conjoined dates are opposing twins; Thanksgiving with its subdued domesticity and Black Friday with its public spectacle and consumerism wrapped into a single day. At least it used to be one day. Increasingly, the start of the holiday shopping period has engaged in a program of imperialism against its more wholesome (in practice) older sibling. What was an early morning opening on Friday grew into a midnight revelation. Now, it is common for stores to open when most families are just sitting down for their Thanksgiving dinner.
I hate to be the Grinch who stole Black Friday, but this needs to end.
I used to work retail and my brother currently manages a large store with over 100 employees. I know that Black Friday and the weeks that follow make or break most retailers. People are out there spending huge amounts of money, and if you plan to stay open and employed, you need to work to get some of that consumer cash. I also know many stores pay their associates double their wages to work on Thanksgiving. When I lived away from home and didn’t have a family, I didn’t mind the extra cash.
But these utilitarian arguments in favor of starting the holiday sales season on Thanksgiving are anemic on a societal front. It reminds me of a squabble I got into with a few commenters on one of Mike’s recent posts about millennial employees. I argued that it was unseemly to expect those in working class gigs to sacrifice more of their time and efforts for the bottom line of the corporation they would likely not benefit from. Yes, the company is providing compensation for their efforts, but the fact that working retail Thanksgiving day is becoming a norm should anger us as a society. Putting aside the historically revisionist origins of the holiday, Thanksgiving has generally been practiced as a time to come together with one’s extended family and enjoy a meal together. In principle, we give thanks to that family for being there with us through the tempests we face in life. Expecting retail employees to give up this occasion to start the sale season a few hours earlier is obscene.
There is a class component to all this. You would be hard pressed to find someone in a middle-class office job being asked to come in and work on Thanksgiving. Yet, we expect poorly paid sales associates to give up time with their family so that their employer can open a few hours earlier on a national holiday practiced by Americans of all religions and creeds. What was once a brief moment for family across America has developed into a day of kinfolk for some but a day of work for others. It simply doesn’t have to be this way, but it requires a collaborative pushback against the tendency.
Thankfully, cracks are beginning to show in this consumer trend. CNN Money reports:
“American retailers have been pushing “door busters” earlier and earlier, dragging employees in to open stores on Thanksgiving afternoon.
But this year, REI’s 12,000 full and part-time workers will not only have Thanksgiving Day off, they will have Black Friday off with pay.
Stritzke acknowledged that keeping REI’s 143 U.S. stores closed will put a dent in revenue. He said Black Friday has been among the company’s top 10 sales days in past years.”
Thankfully, REI got some free press out of this arrangement, and I hope it encourages consumers to buy gifts from them this season. A number of other large corporations have also stated that they will not be open Thanksgiving.
I don’t care for shopping, but I am not going to get on my high horse about Black Friday and those who enjoy shopping on the occasion. It may be consumerism, but it’s also the citizenry out and about with their community, and I assume for many, this first whiff of the holidays is communicable.
So let’s keep Black Friday alive by keeping it far from our jovial turkey dinners.