Economics 101 & Public Square

Who Turned Thanksgiving into Black Thursday?

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In 2011, Walmart began Black Friday at 10:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day for the first time. In 2012, sales began at 8:00 p.m. In 2013, 6:00 p.m.

This year, establishments like J.C. Penney, Michael’s, Old Navy, and Toys ‘R’ Us will open their doors between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. But no retailer beats Kmart, which will open at dawn on Thanksgiving and stay open forty-two hours straight.

This means people across the country will leave Thanksgiving dinner early with their families to open up shop (or be fined in some cases) and work the cash register. Others will forgo the feast in hopes of snagging the best deal on a new television. Some even left their families weeks ago to go stand in line.

Thanksgiving has traditionally been a holiday dedicated to family and thankfulness for what we already have, but now it seems to be about cutting family time short to go get more stuff. Who or what is responsible for turning Black Friday into Black Thursday and Friday?

Capitalism vs. Consumerism

Some might say capitalism is responsible. Capitalism and consumerism are partners in crime, right? That’s not the case according to blogger Matt Walsh. He says,

I’m a capitalist…. I am not, however, a consumerist. I like the freedom and innovation of capitalism; I loath the materialism and gluttony of consumerism. There’s a popular misconception that capitalism and consumerism are inextricably linked — that one naturally involves and requires the other. But this is a fallacy.

According to Walsh, our obsession with things and products is making it harder to appreciate family and tradition. But this isn’t because capitalism promotes consumerism. Capitalism is just an economic system – an imperfect one – that reflects the values we put into it, so if we feed it consumerism, that’s what we’ll get.

In other words, we (the consumers) are guilty of turning Thanksgiving into a consumerist holiday.

Should You Participate?

Even though consumers are the culprits, this doesn’t mean everyone who participates in Black Thursday is guilty of consumerism.

Many retail workers appreciate the opportunity to make extra money on the holiday to better provide for their families, and many shoppers only want to take advantage of sales for family Christmas gifts in order to be good stewards of their money.

Some stores threaten a fine of $1,100 per hour if they remain closed on Thanksgiving, so some owners may not have much of a choice.

But if you’re wondering if you should leave Thanksgiving dinner before the pie is served to buy that new, state-of-the-art vacuum you’ve had your eye on, think about it this way.

God has called us to follow him through our callings to our family, church, community, and vocation, according to Os Guiness. However, God doesn’t tell us in the Bible how many hours per week to spend with our families or at work, let alone whether or not we should go shopping on Thanksgiving.

But I’m reminded of Ecclesiastics 3, “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” The question at hand is one of prudence – what is the appropriate thing to do on a day like Thanksgiving?

To that question, different people have different answers. But if you believe the sales should wait, you can view your decision to not participate in Black Thursday as a vote against consumerism. Walsh says,

Capitalism is great, but some things are greater. Family is greater…. You could wait until Friday, couldn’t you? And if you did wait until Friday, and if everyone waited until Friday, no store would ever open on Thanksgiving again, right? So you could take steps to protect Thanksgiving from the decay of materialism and consumerism, and, while you’re at it, give this wonderful holiday back to the customer service representatives who have been forced to abandon it and cater to the stampeding throngs, right?

The responsibility falls on us. We can choose to turn Thanksgiving into a day of buying stuff or we can choose to protect the holiday tradition of family and thankfulness. That’s why not all stores are following suite. Barnes & Noble, Costco, DSW, Home Depot, Nordstrom, Patagonia, Sam’s Club, among other retailers, will remain closed on Thursday.

The good news is, if you want to save Thanksgiving from consumerism, all you have to do is stay home and eat turkey with your family.

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