Black Friday: A Sign of Tradition, A Sign of the Times, or A Sign of Tyranny?

Photo taken in December 2010

As I write this column entry, people in the USA as well as American expatriates residing in Europe, Australia, Asia and elsewhere are celebrating Thanksgiving. The holiday, which occurs every fourth Thursday in November, is a special time for everyone, as it is a day for giving thanks to who we have and what we have got in our lives- family, a nice home, a decent job, and friends who keep in touch with us and are there when we need them; even in times when we lose a close family member. It is the time when we feast on a stuffed turkey, sweet potatoes, pies, rolls, and everything in between. It is a time to watch the Thanksgiving parade in many US cities as well as football games, play cards, talk about events of the past, and plan for the future…..
……especially as far as the holiday shopping season is concerned.
Thanksgiving also marks the start of the Christmas shopping season, which starts at 12:00am on this particular evening, or the morning known as Black Friday. Now who would be silly enough to do that, when in all reality people just want sit and relax and visit family and friends? Many retailers are doing just that, and many people are very angry at that notion, for that is more stress than everything. Kohls, Target, Macy’s, Wal-mart, you name it, they are doing it. But contrary to the belief that it would make the customers happy so that they can start early on the shopping- the old rule that the customer is king and should be accommodated to their needs- the underlying reason for this tactic is solely for profit.
2011 has been a very rough year for the retail industry as customers are tightening their belts and retailers are struggling to stay in the black. And this is only part of the problem that the US (and Europe) have been facing, as the economies are teetering on the edge of another recession due to high unemployment, exorbitant deficits that not even the toughest austerity measures to the government programs can cut it down to edible bites, and there is no real leadership to tackle this problem. The saddest part will be that 2012 will be the breaking point for all those affected by this problem. That means less economic growth resulting in our eventual dive into another recession and less consumption. Instead, we could see something resembling 1968 and 1848 when the public tones out the pleas to consume and holds the same governments and businesses hostage demanding a top-down reform of a system that has lost its breaks and going down a steep hill out of control and determined to slam into (…..).
The retailers are only a fraction of the problem society is facing but are still the ones that should look at the real picture regarding what the customers really want. It is not effective to have stores open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week so that the customers can go there at their own convenience. It produces meager profits and if one counts the employees’ salaries that are taken out of the profits, the end result is breaking even combined with disgruntled employees, who have to sacrifice their holidays just to earn minimum salary.
Black Friday is one of those fine examples where it was really not necessary to have stores open right at midnight, or even the evening of Thanksgiving. 25 years ago most stores opened their holiday shopping season at the absolute earliest, 7:00am; most of them at 9:00am. Sure there were huge lines, and many people did camp out on the parking lots as early as 5:00am just to be the first ones in the store. Now, people are either sacrificing their Thanksgiving or even pushing it back to Wednesdays, just so they can keep the tradition alive and satisfy the retailers’ needs, whose employees are more than furious at the notion of working on a holiday, where they want to spend time with family and the turkey. From an outsiders’ point of view, this is packing on more stress on the person than necessary, and after this season, retailers should reconsider their policies towards the holiday shopping season, so that the customers can have a healthy balance between work and life as well as food and gifts. Sometimes reverting to the good-old days where Thanksgiving is considered a national holiday where all stores are to be closed until 8:00am Friday morning and strict policies prohibiting squatting on the parking lots in front of retailers before 7:00am is the best remedy to reduce the stress on the employees and make the customers consider the true meaning of Thanksgiving, let alone Christmas.
If both holidays mean just consumption, gifts, and Santa Claus, then they are not considered holidays. We should look at the two holidays with different perspectives, and see what they really mean. The Pilgrims gave thanks for all the help they received by the Native Americans after enduring their first winter in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. They never had to worry about jewelry and fashion-named clothing, for they worried about how to survive on their own and recapturing their own identity, which was lost in the Old World (England). And Jesus Christ never liked being commercialized and glorified by the media- let alone compete with Santa. Christmas is his birthday and one should never forget why He came and how He was and still is influential in our lives. Perhaps one should take a minute to look at the true meaning of the two holidays and then think about when and how to shop for the right gift. Some will still keep to the tradition, but others will look at when it is the best time to do some Christmas shopping, but not at the expense of time for the family; esp. on a day like Thanksgiving.