Editorial: It’s just stuff: Keep Black Friday on Friday

Every year, in the early morning hours of the day after Thanksgiving, a ritual occurs where millions of shoppers gather impatiently outside large retailers, attempting to take advantage of special deals. Some camp out for days in the November cold in the hope of purchasing a new knickknack. When the doors finally swing open to deliver them from the pre-dawn chill, people swarm in like a cloud of locusts, descending upon discounted goods, and the chaos begins. Crowds of people scramble and jockey for the gifts they want. People are shoved and pushed aside. Fights break out. Any resemblance of organized society breaks down as people hurl themselves at the only Hello Kitty-branded sofa remaining. This madness is Black Friday.

This year, retailers decided to take Black Friday a step further. Instead of starting their sales on the day after Thanksgiving, many retailers—Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target and others—have decided to welcome hordes of shoppers to their stores on Thanksgiving day itself in an endeavor to pry more dollars from more people’s pockets. And the people obliged them, content to wait in lines for days in order to secure a deal on trinkets and doodads that they otherwise wouldn’t have bought, leaving Thanksgiving tables normally abuzz with warmth and conversation instead absent, cold, and silent. Black Friday’s tendrils have been continually creeping toward the day we normally reserve for family time and being appreciative for what we have, threatening to turn Thanksgiving into Black Thanksgiving. This infringement needs to stop, and only with the combined effort of the guilty parties involved—the corporations and the people themselves—can Thanksgiving as we know it be saved.

What happened to Thanksgiving? The day is supposed to be a time when people can gather with their loved ones and be thankful for what they have in life, not a day spent squaring off with shoppers as they scramble for discounted cell phones and stuffed toys. Black Friday is encroaching on sacred ground. When will the Thanksgiving holiday become known as the Black Friday holiday? How soon will it be before retail chains offer a free turkey to families who wait in line on Thanksgiving day so they don’t have to skip their Thanksgiving meal?

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The sales generated on the Friday after Thanksgiving alone totaled $11.4 billion in 2011. Last year, 152 million people showed up to shop on Black Friday—half the population of the entire United States. Black Friday is the single most-trafficked shopping day in the entire year. And most market analysts have predicted the revenue and foot traffic in 2012 to top that of 2011 by a hefty margin. There is no doubt Black Friday is an important part of the United States’ retail economy. Some retailers depend on strong sales during Black Friday, and during the holiday season more generally, to buoy the company’s sales for the entire year. Not only that, but brick-and-mortar retailers feel additional pressure from every side: not only do they have to deal with a mediocre economy, but their sales are also being siphoned away by increasingly competitive online companies like Amazon. Retailers who decide to extend the Black Friday discounts in order to boost sales can’t be blamed for simply attempting to keep the company afloat amidst turbulent economic conditions.

However, corporations do have a responsibility to protect the public good. Black Friday in itself is not inherently detrimental to society. But extending it into Thanksgiving is. The day of Thanksgiving needs to be a time when people can be together with their families and be grateful for time spent with their loved ones. When stores entice people away with tantalizing discounts, we as a society forget the crucial need for family, friends, and relaxation in favor of a belief that buying is what’s best. And so when we rush into the stream of frenzied shoppers to purchase the perfect gift for someone important, we forget that spending time with that person is the best gift you can give.

Corporations need to realize this and take steps to prevent Black Friday from intruding on Thanksgiving. For one, they can simply move their sales away from Thanksgiving. Instead of trying to undercut each other by opening their doors first, companies can agree to refrain from Black Friday sales until Friday actually arrives. Retailers can start an online waitlist for people to encourage orderly behavior and keep the chaos to a minimum. They could also implement a policy to encourage people to spend time at home with their families on Thanksgiving. For instance, stores can offer accelerated admittance to people who show proof of having bought a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. These are just a couple of ideas for basic rules that corporations can universally agree to adhere to in the spirit of Thanksgiving.

But it’s not just corporations that need to be more responsible. Companies will respond to the desires of their consumers, and ultimately it is the responsibility of the people to ensure that the Thanksgiving holiday retains its meaning. The solution is simple: don’t shop on Thanksgiving. If you feel the burning desire to brave the crowds to retrieve some discounted object as a gift, ask yourself: are the presents you’re buying for your friends and family more important than the time you spend with them? Many of the things we buy age, gather dust, break down, and are eventually tossed into the dustbin. But time is irreplaceable. You can’t return lost time to the store for a refund.

Between individual action and companies’ reactions, we can push back against the Black Friday that is attempting to barge through the door into Thanksgiving’s house. Black Friday is important for the U.S. economy and should still have a place on the calendar. But its province should be restricted to its namesake: Friday.

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