Whatever happened to Thanksgiving anyway?

Maria Hoover, SBJ Features EditorAs we welcome the month of December, and I try to figure out what’s left to buy on my Christmas list, I find that I’m wistful for another holiday – one that increasingly is overshadowed by the special days that precede and follow it.

Is it just me, or do retailers move from Halloween straight to Christmas music and eye-catching displays that remind us just how many shopping days are left until Dec. 25?

I just wonder what happened to Thanksgiving. It is still a national holiday, but it seems harder to remember that every year. Turkey, stuffing and family gatherings on the fourth Thursday of November are, it would seem, less important than getting the “best deals ever” on the pseudo-holiday dubbed Black Friday.

This year, Black Friday turned tragic, with one retail worker being trampled to death by throngs of deal seekers. Other less deadly, but still discouraging, occurrences are tales of fights over merchandise and other displays of ill will toward fellow shoppers – beginning just one day after the day set aside to be thankful for life’s blessings and bounty.

According to the National Retail Federation’s first wave of Black Friday shopping statistics, more than 172 million shoppers visited stores and Web sites last Thursday–Sunday. (Yes, that’s right. Not all stores wait until Friday, launching their super-specials instead on Thanksgiving). Shoppers – and I must be honest, I was one of them – spent an average of $372.57 apiece this year, for total spending of roughly $41 billion, surely good news to the retail sector.

The NRF says the number of shoppers and how much they spent are up compared to 2007, when 147 million shoppers spent an average of $347.55.

Don’t get me wrong: I like to save money as much as anyone, and with the current economy, more people than ever probably need as much help as they can get stretching their Christmas budgets.

But for all that we might have saved during the biggest shopping weekend of the year, what did it cost us? Did it cost us the opportunity to truly sit back and reflect on all that we’ve been given? Fair question; I hope the answer is no.

I found myself in pursuit of great deals on Thursday morning. At the time, I rationalized that if I got my shopping done early, before cooking had to begin, I’d be more relaxed, as doing anything alone is a treat with three kids at home! And I did find some good bargains before I headed home to put the turkey in and start preparing our family feast. The best part of my day, however, wasn’t the shopping, but the quiet moments after dinner when my 10-year-old said, “Thanks for fixing this, Mom.”

I’m ashamed to say that I shopped on Friday, too, albeit mid-morning after the early birds had come and gone, and I still found most of what I wanted.

Now that the holiday is gone, the kids are back in school and I’m back at work, I have regrets, not the least of which is that I sacrificed precious time I could have spent with the kids rushing around at busy stores. (I can only hope that they will appreciate my efforts when they tear into the gifts Santa leaves under the tree!)

I find myself in an odd spot, torn between wanting to swear off Black Friday shopping altogether and yet, still wanting to respect the family budget. And in times like these, retailers who have likely felt the drop in discretionary spending most sharply, need all the help they can get. I can’t help but wonder, though, if there’s not a better way to strike more balance between Thanksgiving – a day that should be set aside for food, family, friends and gratitude – and getting a jump on good deals.

Why can’t Black Friday be on another weekend? I don’t remember the craziness of Thanksgiving weekend shopping when I was a kid. Heck, my favorite part of Thanksgiving weekend was that both my parents were off work on Thursday and Friday, and we got to eat lots of food, see family, play games and stay up late. Shopping trips began after that, and were a whole other adventure.

I know, I’m probably in the minority. But whether I choose to go shopping on Thanksgiving weekend next year, I do know this: My No. 1 priority will be to spend more time giving thanks with those I am most thankful for – my family.


1 Response to “Whatever happened to Thanksgiving anyway?”

  1. 1 Brenda Fick December 3, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    I swore off “Black Friday” shopping, actually, any shopping the entire Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend. This was my fifth year. Salute!
    Business’s are open Thanksgiving Day, and Black Friday is what it is due to the public demanding it. (The old supply and demand) Do you remember when all stores were closed on Sundays? Six days of shopping weren’t enough, the public wanted more.
    There is not one material object in this world that is worth the sacrifice of time with family and/or your sanity. I much prefer to spend the weekend, eating leftovers, while playing games, or just hanging out with family. Life is too short. Spend it with your loved ones. These are the days your children will remember.

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