Whatever Happened to Giving Thanks?

Few holidays embody the American spirit quite like Thanksgiving: whether it is the food, the faith, the family, or the football. As an immigrant, I wasn’t too familiar with the uniquely American holiday when I first came to the US, but I quickly fell in love with Thanksgiving and encouraged my family to observe it, and it is now my favorite of all the holidays.

It is for that reason that I lament the marked decline of Thanksgiving in recent years. Despite being a holiday that celebrates family and being grateful for what one has, Thanksgiving has been significantly overshadowed by Black Friday, or as we can more accurately call it, Black Thursday. For decades, Black Friday was the busiest shopping holiday of the year, and was even a media spectacle due to the madness that ensues in shopping malls on an otherwise slow news day. However, in this decade, stores began to open earlier and earlier to beat their competitors to consumers looking to get a first crack at buying Christmas presents. In 2011, some major stores opened at midnight of Black Friday.

On that year, I felt that opening the stores at midnight would enhance my Thanksgiving experience, and it has, as midnight shopping with friends has become an entrenched item on the list of my Thanksgiving rituals. However, I was quickly disappointed when I saw stores, beginning with Walmart in 2012, beginning to open their stores on Thanksgiving Day. Ever since then, it became common practice for stores to open around the time of Thanksgiving dinner, and stores like JC Penney are now opening at 3PM. At this rate, just skip the Turkey dinner and just order a pizza!

Today, we see a holiday about family and being thankful for what one being ignored because of rampant consumerism and the desire to covet more material possessions. There is a cruel irony to this modern sentiment, and a sad realization that the image of a family having a hearty dinner is being replaced by shopping mall mobs as the dominant symbol of Thanksgiving day.

Additionally, even though these workers are generally paid overtime for working, many retail employees are forced to work on Thanksgiving day, and are separated from their families on one of the most important holidays of the year. Unless there is a large number of employees volunteering to work those days, most workers don’t have a choice in the matter. Considering that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is still the busiest travel day of the year, it would be quite disappointing for someone who flew in from a thousand miles away only to see their family member skip dinner for work.

It’s easy to blame the stores that choose to operate during Thanksgiving, but it really isn’t that simple. They are only responding to consumer demand, and as long as Americans continue to choose to skip important holidays for shopping, businesses will continue to accommodate them. It’s really up to Americans as a whole to see the problem with this behavior, and choose not to miss out on Thanksgiving and wait until Friday to start their Christmas shopping.

On one hand, it’s discouraging to see some stores moving their Black Friday hours up earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving, but the trends aren’t all bad. Thanksgiving Day profits have fallen 12.5% last year, and over 80 percent of Black Friday sales are conducted on Friday. About 70 percent of Americans believe that stores should stay closed on Thanksgiving, according to a poll by HuffPost and YouGov, and key stores like Office Depot and Gamestop have elected to stay closed on Thanksgiving. Due to the higher labor costs of operating on Thanksgiving, unless the decision to do so is incredibly profitable, it is not a decision worth making, and it some stores have begun to understand that.

It’s important that I still reiterate that I don’t hate Black Friday, and it can still be a fun social occasion in its own right. However, we need to celebrate our holidays one at a time as opposed to allowing them to encroach on one another. Our holidays work best when they are given appropriate time to shine, otherwise they are either overshadowed, watered down, or both.

Sure, the latest deal on those Jordans might look nice, but sometimes, we need to just ask ourselves, is nothing sacred? At least for one day, let’s ignore the consumerism, eat some turkey and pumpkin pie with family, and be grateful for what we have. There are plenty of sales and days to shop all around the calendar, but there is only one Thanksgiving.

Robert is a rising senior at UC Irvine and a conservative activist both on and off campus. He is the current Chief of Staff of the CA College Republicans, and was also the former president of College Republicans at UCI and also held the position of Southern Region Vice Chair on the state board.