Black Thursday?

Having lived the last eight years in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, I have consequently also missed out on Black Friday. It’s not the thing I’ve missed most while living abroad, but I certainly like a good bargain, and with our impending move into our new house, we have assorted purchases to make, so it came at a welcome time for us.
An important purchase to me (though less so to the wife) is a TV. Having obsessively checked reviews from Consumer Reports, etc., I was pleased to see a ‘best buy’ on sale at K-Mart. It was actually part of their ‘doorbusters’ sale on Thursday night at 8pm. So with family gone, leftovers put away, and kids in bed, I ventured out to buy a TV that night.
I was not prepared for what I encountered. Cars circled in the parking lot, looking to pounce on a spot. Once I got in, I became part of the largest crowd I’ve ever seen in a Kmart. I made my way to the back to Electronics and came upon a line so long that I stopped counting at 50 people (see picture below). I walked up to the section itself and saw mostly bare shelves where TVs had once resided. Quickly concluding that however long it took me to wait in that line would probably only end in further disappointment, with the TV I wanted having likely already sold out, I weaved my way back to the front and out the door, and on home.
By all accounts, Black Thursday is becoming the new norm. But after some reflection, I realized that I wasn’t pleased with myself that I had gone out that night to shop. It’s not trying to get a TV that I find problematic, and certainly not trying to get it for a bargain, but rather the timing of it.
Why is it a good thing to shop on Thanksgiving? Is my compulsion to consume so strong that it has to overtake any and every time? There are times and places where it’s appropriate—even fitting—not to consume and acquire more things, and that’s no matter how enticing the deal.
Thanksgiving is precisely a good candidate for a time not to shop. First, that’s because of the very meaning of the day. It’s a time to be thankful, to cultivate gratitude for what we have, and how our lives have unfolded over the past year. That’s true even for people who don’t acknowledge God as the one who has given them everything. But it’s especially true for Christians: we should reflect with great thanks on how God has been at work in us (both through the good and the ‘bad’). Being thankful helps cultivate contentment with what we have. So how does going shopping for more stuff on that same day help us be thankful?
Second, Thanksgiving is a holiday for being with family and friends. It’s one of the few times in the year when you know nearly everyone can get together. Yes, there are caveats for people who work essential jobs (not sure yet if my watching football that day falls under ‘essential’).  But when retail stores open, that window closes.  Now, some people from the table are missing, because they’ve had to go get ready for the store to open.
And who is it that works? It’s people by and large who can’t say no. When a retail store manager assigns his employees to work Thanksgiving (because he’s been told to have the store open by his bosses), they don’t have the freedom not to. There’s a massive gap in who holds the power, especially in a still shaky economy. For some of us to get to shop on Thanksgiving means that others of us have to work. And I doubt the Kmart executives were working that night (though I could be wrong), yet they found it perfectly appropriate to require people to work for them.  There’s a gap here in power, along the lines of socioeconomic status, that should trouble us.
Many workers are understandably unhappy and have started petitions and looked to change their employers’ mind. The response is, ‘We’re just doing what our customers want’. The power lies in consumer hands, it’s said. Stores are open because the demand is there. That’s partly true but also partly disingenuous—when a store opens on Thanksgiving with great ‘doorbuster’ deals that you can only get that night, that feeds consumer demands. Neither consumers in general, nor the decision-makers at stores, are blameless.
For me personally, I regret having gone out last week, and plan not to shop on Thanksgiving next year, no matter how good the deal. It’s a matter of making a small statement that consumption and getting more stuff isn’t a higher good than time to be thankful and see family. If stores are open because I as a consumer want them to be, then I’m going to stop wanting them to be. It’s a way of protecting people who don’t have the luxury of saying no if they’re told they have to forego their own Thanksgiving in order to sell flat-screen TVs at a great price. I’m under no illusions about whether wider change is possible, and Black Thursday can be rolled back, but I’d like to see us try.

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