When I was a kid, the Friday after Thanksgiving had a very specific ritual. My mother and sister, along with my grandmother and aunts on occasion, would get up before dawn and head out to the stores. My father and I would wake up at a much more reasonable time and get to work on the Christmas decorations. Later in the afternoon, when the decorations were up and the women returned from shopping, we would decorate the tree. Then we would be kicked out of the room while they wrapped our presents. We would finish the evening with dinner and usually our first Christmas movies of the year.
My experience as a child was a great example of how Black Friday used to exist. It was a day for stores to make a move to profitability (hence the name “Black” Friday), and a day for consumers to save money on Christmas shopping. In recent years, there has been a change in the attitude of shoppers and companies about Black Friday. With ever-growing desire for consumption, shoppers have become unruly mobs that have endangered the lives of others. Companies looking to maximize profits have started opening earlier and earlier so that they can ensure they will receive a higher proportion of the available budgets that consumers have for the day. This year, we saw unprecedented opening times. Many stores began their Black Friday sales at 8 pm on Thanksgiving. This continual creep of Black Friday hours into the Thanksgiving holiday, recently dubbed Gray Thursday, is a disgusting display of consumerism and greed that highlights many of our faults as a free society.
It’s no secret that I have many problems with the state of business in our nation. I believe that companies have become increasingly greedy and the higher profits that these companies are seeing are coming at the expense of the average workers. Gray Thursday is no exception to this rule. The rationale behind the change is that customers only have a specific amount of money to spend. If they spend it at another store early in the day, they won’t have much left for your store later. This means you have to open earlier in the day to get a bigger piece of the pie. As each company competes to open earlier than its competitors do, they begin to encroach on Thanksgiving.
It has always been common for workers at retail stores to get up very early on Black Friday to be ready for the mob. When I worked retail, I often had to be there by three or four in the morning to prepare. I never had a problem with that because I expected those hours. That’s the argument I get quite often from people about Gray Thursday. They say that the workers should expect to work holidays because they chose to work retail. The problem is that these workers didn’t sign on to work Thanksgiving. They have traditionally worked on Black Friday, but had their holiday to themselves and their families. They are now being asked to give up their holiday so that their employers can make sure that the company gets every dime possible. This is why many of these employees are protesting.
These executives seem to have no problem ordering their employees to give up their holiday while they get to stay home with their families. With very few exceptions, the corporate offices of these companies, including the executives, are closed on Thanksgiving. Companies who refuse to do the ethical thing by staying closed on Thanksgiving should at least follow the lead of companies like Target, which required most of its executive staff to be present at local stores. If a leader isn’t willing to do the work on Thanksgiving, he or she has no right asking the staff to do the work.
Not all of the blame for this situation belongs with the companies. Much of the blame belongs with shoppers. The idea of bargain hunting and shopping on Black Friday has gone from a way to save money on gifts to a frenzy of stupidity. Anyone who has worked a retail store on Black Friday can attest to the insanity that takes hold of shoppers. Many of these shoppers lose all restraint when confronted with a store full of great deals. They become a dangerous mob and pose a risk to themselves and the workers. Shoppers have been known to get in physical altercations over sale items and arguments about who was in line first. Last year, a woman sprayed a crowd of shoppers with pepper spray to get her hands on a discounted gaming system. In 2008, a worker at Wal-Mart was killed when a crowd broke through the doors of the building and trampled him to death. For anyone who hasn’t seen this kind of nonsense, check out this list of Black Friday disasters on video.
While I understand that many of these people may be looking for items on sale that they can’t otherwise afford, there is no excuse for the behavior of these shoppers. We’re not talking about starving people looking for cheap food to feed their families. We’re talking about televisions, electronics, and toys. This ravenous behavior looms like a storm cloud over a holiday that is intended as a day to be thankful for what we have.
I have to ask the questions: Are we so desperate for immediate gratification that we can’t wait another nine or ten hours for a store to open? If the only argument to explain or defend this greedy shopping is that these people need these sale items, why has our society allowed people to be reduced to the point that they must act like animals to get the items that they need? Finally, where will it stop? If companies continually attempt to gain an advantage by being open slightly earlier than the competition, they will eventually stop closing for Thanksgiving.
It is not acceptable for us, as a nation, to continue to devalue one of our greatest national holidays by turning it into a day of greed and consumerism. I have talked to conservatives and liberals on both sides of this argument. The question always asked is, how do you stop the companies from opening earlier? The answer is simple, but difficult to accomplish. There is no regulation that can force a business to close for Thanksgiving. However, if the people show restraint and refuse to spend any money on Black Friday at stores that open on Gray Thursday, the companies will see no value in opening earlier and return to historical Black Friday hours. Unfortunately, this would require the general population to exhibit self-control, which is probably not going to happen. The only other option I see is for a handful of executives at major corporations to act ethically and refuse to extend their hours into Thursday. They could promote their respect for the Thanksgiving holiday and their employees, which should give them a competitive advantage for Black Friday. Particularly with those of us who are opposed to Gray Thursday. If the rest of the companies see that they can be just as successful, or even more successful, by only opening on Friday, they will stop opening on Thursday to save themselves the cost of the extra hours. I’m a cynic when it comes to corporate America. Even though I know it is possible to turn the tide of this greed and keep it from washing away the last vestiges of a wonderful American tradition, I doubt that either the consumers or executives will ever make the ethical decision and reverse this trend.