Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Our Changing Holidays aka Black Friday Eve

by Bill Holmes

Our celebration and perception of holidays is changing before our very eyes. It gets worse and changes faster every year. Before long our calendars and national holidays will need to reflect the new reality.

The worst and most obvious change is Thanksgiving. I think we are in danger of losing this great holiday. There is an undeniable and disturbing reason for this. The retailers don't make enough money from Thanksgiving. With the exception of turkeys, cranberries, sweet potatoes and French's French Fried Onions (for the green bean casserole), we don't buy a lot of extra stuff for Thanksgiving. That means other than Kroger or Publix or Safeway there's not much more than the usual household spending. Maybe a little extra at the liquor store too for a better than normal bottle or two of wine or a bottle of Baileys Irish Cream for after dinner coffee. Best Buy, Macy's, Walmart and Target don't get a big bump in customers or revenue, so they almost skip recognition of the holiday. How many Thanksgiving decorations or advertisements did you see this year?

Before long we will observe the fourth Thursday in November as Black Friday Eve. We're close to that now. In fact, Black Friday itself is in jeopardy of becoming Black Thursday. Black Friday used to start the Christmas shopping season at normal store opening hours on Friday. Then a couple of stores began opening at 8:00 AM, then 6:00, then 4:00 and finally at midnight. Of course that is no longer good enough. Now major retailers are opening on Thanksgiving, some are open all day just like a normal Thursday. So you see, we are already close to eliminating Thanksgiving as a holiday where family and friends gather to give thanks, share time together, eat too much, watch football on TV and fall asleep on the couch. It's now primarily a shopping day or at least a planning day for shopping. Thanksgiving dinner will soon have to be a quick breakfast, maybe with turkey sausage or turkey bacon, so we can get to Walmart. Of course this won't last long. Some retailer, maybe next year, will start the sales on Wednesday night. You see where this is going. Hey, many folks are off work Labor Day, let's start the big Christmas sales then. Hell, why wait that long? Let's shop before the July 4th fireworks.

Whenever the retailers start the sales some people will try to be first in line for the big deal items. I'm sure you've seen the news reports of folks camped out at the big box retailers. A week or more before Black Friday there are tents, chairs, sleeping bags and grills outside the store doors. I saw mothers and grandparents, some with the kids, camped out on TV yesterday. Grandma was talking about what a wonderful Christmas the kids would have. More accurately she meant what a materialistic Christmas we'll have. So how great a Thanksgiving will the family have camped outside Best Buy? Let us give thanks for this tent and the good weather so we can get $100 off a TV and Nintendo Wii U. I wish it was about 30 degrees, windy and wet instead of the 70 degree days we're having here in D/FW. Maybe then some would stay home at least part of Thursday and celebrate the real holiday.

Thanksgiving is not the only holiday being changed by retailers and advertisers. Halloween used to be a kids night now it's a major retail event. It's not just selling more candy, there are now costume stores and Halloween decorations, lights, spook/horror houses, events and parties. Halloween stores pop up in malls and empty storefronts. My parents never dressed up for Halloween, never had a party, never took me to a spook house (there weren't any) or decorated the house. We had one pumpkin carved with triangle eyes and nose on the front porch. One parent would go with the little kids and one would stay home to hand out the candy or money or cookies or fruit. We weren't scared by news reports that our neighbors were putting razor blades in apples or arsenic in the homemade cookies. An eccentric parent might put on some extra makeup or a homemade witches hat. No full French Maid costumes from the Party Store. I'm not opposed to Halloween becoming a bigger holiday. I think it's fun and I know some very mature kids that enjoy it very much. Let's be clear though, millions of people didn't just all of a sudden decide to make Halloween a big deal. Retailers and advertisers saw an opportunity and pushed it. That's OK with me because no other holiday or tradition was pushed aside. The only downside is that retailers now go directly from Halloween to Christmas with no acknowledgement of Thanksgiving.

The Super Bowl was once just a football game. Now it's a reason to sell big screen TV's and everything related to the home entertainment center. We all need a new 60 inch flat screen TV, Dolby surround sound speakers, tiered seating, reclining chairs and a few other toys. We also need mass quantities of food and drink, team clothing and probably a new grill and/or outdoor kitchen. All that to watch a usually crappy football game with a bad halftime show. Old Navy tries to sell us a new T-shirt every year for July 4th. It's the same grey shirt with a flag printed on it but then they print the year on it too. You can't possibly wear a 2011 shirt in 2012.

I don't know what the retailers and advertisers have in store for Memorial, Independence, Veterans and Labor Days. I'm sure they have their best minds working on it. None of those holidays help the retail establishment that much. Again, you might get a spike at the grocery and liquor stores but no great push for the malls and big box stores. Maybe those holidays are safe as is for a few years since they're not surrounded by two major retail events, Halloween and Christmas, like Thanksgiving is. I do suspect that Super Bowl Sunday has eclipsed New Year's Eve and Day as the primary January, sometimes February, event.

I've had mostly good Thanksgivings my whole life. Although my small immediate family lived a thousand miles from most of our relatives we always spent the holiday with friends, usually less than 10 people. It was always a nice day even the times when there was a kitchen disaster and there were a few. In later life I became part of a much larger family and group of friends, more like 20-25 people for dinner. I still get to celebrate with that crowd which I enjoy and appreciate very much. Those who were once the little kids at Thanksgiving are now the parents of the little kids. It's a great tradition. I hope we can keep Thanksgiving as a non-commercial holiday where people just get together to enjoy each other, a little food and beverage, some football and give thanks that we can do all of that.

I don't plan to ever go to a Black Friday sale. I plan to rest after a full meal the day before, maybe go for a bike ride but not near any stores. For Thanksgiving, I plan to see friends and family I don't see often enough, eat and drink too much, watch some football and maybe play some board games. There will be no rush to get to Walmart for the start of the sales.

I hope you have wonderful a Thanksgiving (not Black Friday Eve) and I hope the holiday remains relevant for many years to come. At least until I'm too old to know the difference.


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