News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 18, 2012

MARK BENNETT: Thanksgiving’s feast can be defined by either the presence of family or the family’s quest for presents

Mark Bennett
The Tribune-Star

---- — The best gift deals will be gone by 12:01 a.m. Nov. 23.

Black Friday will be just what its name implies, a dark day. Stores will resemble a doomsday movie — barren shelves (except for a stray SpongeBob SquarePants Pez dispenser or a singing fish), a still-warm turkey leg bone (dropped in Aisle 9 by a shopper who scrambled out of the family Thanksgiving dinner to cash in his 75-percent-off doorbuster coupon), and a dazed cashier-turned-zombie waiting to devour an out-of-touch, old-schooler who foolishly waited until 4 a.m. Friday, Nov. 23, to start hunting for Christmas presents. Folks too lazy, pie-stuffed and shiftless to shop on Thanksgiving Day will find only desolation. Their reward?

Abject disappointment, followed by a long, cold, bleak winter.

Scrooge’s dreams will look blissful by comparison. Forget snapping photos with Santa at the mall; Mad Max will be there instead.


No. Of course, those fears are all fantasy. Americans don’t have to Christmas shop on Thanksgiving.

On Thanksgiving.

Yet, some will. Perhaps they believe all the bargains — the jackets, smartphones, tablets, TVs, crockpots and toys — will be gobbled up on Thanksgiving, when many big retailers open their Christmas sales season earlier than ever. Stores used to fire the starting gun on the Friday after Thanksgiving. (Remember when 6 a.m. “doorbusters” and the term “Black Friday” seemed wild and crazy?) Now, many are opening on Thanksgiving (henceforth known as “Black Friday Eve”).

That’s crazy.

There are lots of rationalizations for the “Thanksgiving creep,” which refers to the steady encroachment of Black Friday into the national holiday set aside by President Abraham Lincoln as a moment to pause, pray and count blessings. Lincoln thought a federal Thanksgiving observance was important enough to enact it in the middle of the Civil War.

In the middle of the Civil War.

They were fighting to save the Union. Today, 149 years later, we’re fighting to get a Wii-U for $299 at 8 o’clock Thanksgiving.


Well, why not?

Competition intensified within the retail industry, looking for a boost as the recession and its aftermath choked the economy. Trying to get an edge, big chains tested somewhat uncharted waters, nudging sales kickoffs in front of midnight and the morning of Black Friday. Not too surprisingly, people showed up at the doors. A few years later, more stores will open up for their Christmas specials — some as early as 8 p.m. — on Thanksgiving Day, including Walmart, Sears, Toys R Us, Kmart and Target. Gander Mountain will unlock its doors at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving and stay open till midnight for its second annual “Camo Thursday.”

And people will show up. The formulaic explanation is simple, straight out of Econ 101: Wants seek satisfaction, then supply meets demand.

In some cases, well-intentioned shoppers see those cut-rate Thanksgiving deals as their chance to give their kids, spouse, loved ones and friends something they otherwise couldn’t afford. For others, Thanksgiving get-togethers are so dysfunctional that an impending trip to Walmart provides the perfect escape. And for some, there is no family, and thus no family dinner with all the trimmings, so the ultimate shop-till-you-drop becomes the holiday.

Each of those instances is understandable, but they don’t account for the entire shop-on-Thanksgiving trend. Some will cross that cultural line unnecessarily.

Americans need to tread carefully on this phenomenon. A day to reflect and find gratitude for, as Lincoln put it, “deliverances and blessings,” remains worthwhile. Thanksgiving should mean more than just an “X” on the calendar and “34 shopping days till Christmas.” Some will leave family huddled in living rooms, watching turkey day NFL games or retelling old stories, to stand in line at a big-box store to buy one of those same relatives an iPhone. They might buy one of their own, too.

Really, would spending a few extra bucks or settling for a less trendy model, by waiting until Black Friday, ruin Christmas? What constitutes the better gift — your presence or your presents?

At the end of the day, Thanksgiving — this Thursday — is just a day. Regardless of its outcome, the sun will come up the next morning, Black Friday. In Vigo County, where 12 percent of the labor force are retail employees, thousands of local people will have worked from sundown to sunup and through their Thanksgiving to allow thousands more to scoop up the latest gadgets and gifts at marked-down prices. It is the new tradition, and we have ourselves to thank for that.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or