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Remembering Thanksgiving

By the time this column is printed, Thanksgiving will have come and gone. I hope yours was full of holiday cheer, time spent with family and friends and much needed R&R. Your holiday traditions probably vary from mine, but the gist is generally the same wherever you go: sitting down to dinner with your family, a turkey and pumpkin pie are somewhere on the menu, and the nice china and silverware make one of their rare appearances. At my home, we go around the table and typically list of a handful of things we’re thankful for, perhaps say grace and then start passing around rolls, orange Jell-O with mandarin oranges and turkey. During the day, depending on when the meal is served, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade or a football game is on the TV, providing background noise and topics of conversation with relatives.

I’ve always kind of thought as Thanksgiving as the ideal American holiday, one that everyone can celebrate regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic status. Who would want to pass up spending time with family and friends? It’s rare to take time out of our busy schedules to reflect and be thankful for all of the blessings in our lives. Of course, one could easily argue that for some, Thanksgiving isn’t a day of celebration, especially considering its dubious past. While those concerns are valid, I’ve always chosen to enjoy the purity of the message that the holiday stands for: reflection and gratitude.

Like many of you, I imagine that you immediately link Thanksgiving with something other than sitting around the table and smiling at relatives: Black Friday. No other day is more anticipated and dreaded in this country as it marks the official beginning of winter holiday shopping*. The day that big-box retailers entice shoppers to get up at ridiculous hours in the morning to literally fight for bargains (Ironically, I almost think that Black Friday better represents American culture than the fable we’re told about the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth Colony, but that’s not for here.).

For as long as I can remember, Black Friday has always been retailers opening up their doors sometime after 4AM on the day after Thanksgiving. But in recent years the trend has been for stores to slowly roll back that time, each trying to one-up their competition. Although several stores encroached on Thanksgiving last year, many key players chose to hold fast to the established 4 AM precedent, but this year things have changed.

Not to show a bias, but I’ve always viewed Target as the ideal big-box retailer, the one I use to see how the others measure up. Although Wal-Mart is nice, I will forever link it with country music, bins of cheap DVDs and Kathy Lee Gifford. These are qualities that will forever rank it second to its Minnesota-based counterpart. Target has always opened at 4 AM on Black Friday, and thus I always assumed that legitimate stores did the same. Until this year. Target, the retailer with a conscious, has decided to open its doors at midnight joining ranks with other American merchandizing institutions like BestBuy, Kohl’s and Macy’s. Needless to say, my whole world has been rocked.

Being from Omaha, I was quite pleased to see a Target employee from home starting a petition to prevent Target from opening so early. As of this draft, the petition had received more than 181,000 signatures, and employees at BestBuy had started one of their own. One thing has become alarmingly clear: American corporations and materialism have encroached too far into one of our most sacred holidays.

When is enough really enough? Will we continue to allow Thanksgiving to become nothing more than a footnote to our winter festivities? I’m all in favor of progress, but next year will Target and Wal-Mart open at 8PM on Thanksgiving to get a further edge on the competition, providing more money for their coffers and desperately needed dollars for our frail economy? Call me old fashioned, un-American, or a big grouch but it just seems like too much of a slippery slope.

*Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, etc.

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