Thanksgiving's future: Will we choose bargains over traditions?

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Column by David B. Whitlock

My, oh my, no time for sweet potato pie this Thanksgiving. We’ve got to rush out and catch the sales at Walmart and Sears by 8 p.m., Target by 9 p.m., then Kohl’s and Best Buy at midnight.

And oh yes, thank you Kmart for that breather between 4 and 8 p.m., Thanksgiving Day, giving us just enough time to scarf down the turkey and dressing before full-throttling ahead on our shopping tour until 11 p.m. Friday.

The inevitable has happened: Black Friday has invaded Turkey Thursday.

Granted, retailers have legitimate reasons for extending their hours to Thursday.

“Holiday shopping can be very stressful,” says Meijer chief operating officer, J.K. Symancyk. “By offering our special deals beginning at 6 a.m. on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday, our customers won’t have to worry about waking up in the middle of the night to stand in line and can choose how early or late they want to shop for the hottest holiday gifts.”

To entice people to their stores on Thanksgiving, Toys R Us is offering the first 200 customers at each location a free “Great Big Goody Bag” filled with stocking-stuffers valued at $30. Store executive Troy Rice says shoppers can have dinner and then shop. “We all know everybody gets burned out on turkey and football.” Rice expects to have lines from 500 to more than 1,000 people by the time the doors open.

Extending shopping hours to Thursday will make it easier for shoppers to grab the bargains and it will be a boost for retailers.

But not everyone is on board.

Some Target employees, led by Casey St. Clair, have petitioned the company to save Thanksgiving Day from Black Friday creep. But wait, don’t other people, like hospital and health care employees, have to work on Thanksgiving Day?

“Retail is not a necessary service that needs to be open,” St. Clair reminds us.

St. Clair is joined by another Target employee, Jennifer Ann, who is also calling on Target to save Thanksgiving from becoming Black Thursday.

“Family has always been important to me and Thanksgiving is all about family,” she wrote to Target. “I love seeing family that we haven’t seen in years and spending time with each other on the only day when we can all get together. Last year it became clear to me that for some large retailers, this holiday isn’t about family or being grateful at all.”

And Charlotte Hill, communications manager at change.org, which bills itself at the world’s petition site, wrote in an email to Upstart Business Journal, “Employees want to spend the holiday with family, and consumers don’t want to have to rush out the door on Thanksgiving in order to get the hottest deals.”

Is Thanksgiving Day, like Sundays, becoming just another day to do business? If so, it becomes no more than another day to buy and sell, shop and trade. And of course, that’s just another work day.

Maybe you feel like my friend who admits she will go shopping Thanksgiving evening, although she wishes the stores would stay closed so she wouldn’t be drawn there for the best deals. We are, after all, naturally inclined to take the easiest, fastest path possible to purchase items for the lowest price and best value. 

But are we paying another price besides the one on the sale item? I think of the '80s song with the words, “I wish it was Sunday/’Cause that’s my fun day/My I don’t have to run day/It’s just another manic Monday.”

So, are we letting let Thanksgiving Day become just another manic Thursday?

That depends on our choice, does it not?

We are not forced to be first in line for the best bargain. Ask yourself what you have to give up for that early bird special. Time with family? Taking a rare nap after an early afternoon dinner? Perhaps an evening movie with someone you love?

Maybe going shopping Thursday night will prove to be an excellent way of sharing family values and saying thanks. Perhaps it will do you good to skip the desert, get off the couch, and head to the mall.

If not, I hope you will stay home. How often do you get to make a social statement by sitting in your easy chair and enjoying a second helping of turkey? Successful retailers are smart; they won’t stay open without customers.

As for me: My, oh my, I see some sweet potato pie! I’m heading to the kitchen before I take my annual Thanksgiving Day snooze.

Dr. David B. Whitlock of Lebanon is a Baptist minister and adjunct instructor at Campbellsville University. He can be reached at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com.