Thanksgiving: A Holiday being Overshadowed by Greed

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Black Friday shoppers at Walmart

Black Friday shoppers at Wal-Mart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1620, a group of people (known today as the Pilgrims) arrived in the New World in order to escape religious prosecution in England. Of the original 102 passengers, only half of them survived the winter. In spring, they came in contact with the Natives, who taught them how to grow food. In November, after the Pilgrims’ first successful corn harvest, they organized a celebratory feast and invited their Native American friends. This feast would last for three days, though the peace between the two groups would last for over fifty years. Though New England would celebrate Thanksgiving annually, it was President George Washington who proclaimed Thanksgiving to be celebrated across the country for the “Happy conclusion of the War of Independence.” Though John Adams and James Madison followed suit, it was Abraham Lincoln who made Thanksgiving a National Holiday that would occur on the final Thursday in November. In the middle of the Civil War, Lincoln asked that all Americans to ask God “to commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.”

Today, families gather around the table to eat turkey and watch football before going off to work… that is, if one is in the retail business. On a day where one should be thankful for what he has, it has now become consumed with shoppers “wanting more,” forcing retail employees to cut spending time with the family short. Originally Black Friday meant stores opened earlier, but now stores are opening early on Thanksgiving. Wal-Mart is opening at 8pm while Target is opening at 9pm. There are even some stores, like Old Navy, that is opened all day Thanksgiving. Besides the hours, Black Friday has also brought out the worse of the human kind.  In 2008, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death as shoppers knocked the doors from their hinges and stepped on him in their rush to the stacks of sales items. In 2011, a woman used pepper spray on fellow shoppers to get Xbox videogames.

Since the first Macy’s Parade in 1924, the day after Thanksgiving has kicked off holiday shopping season. The term “black” refers to stores’ accounting records when records were kept by hand – red ink indicated a loss while black ink indicated a profit. In the 1960’s, Philadelphia police in Philadelphia complained about the traffic, calling it “Black Friday.” Today, Black Friday has become a giant economy boost since the National Retail Federation predicts holiday sales will increase 4.1% this year to $586.1 billion, causing retailers to hire between 585,000 and 625,000 seasonal workers this holiday. In 2011, 226 million people went shopping, spending on average $400 each, and resulting in a total of $52 billion dollars being spent. Another (safer) option to Black Friday is Cyber Monday, the Monday after Black Friday where retailers offer more sales; in fact, more than 70% percent of Black Friday deals last year were also available online.

The retail employees have expressed anger at having to work on a holiday; some employees have threatened to not show up on Black Friday. Wal-Mart has filed a complaint with a federal agency accusing one of the largest unions in the country of unlawfully organizing picket lines and in-store “flash mobs.”  People have also expressed  displeasure at stores for forcing their employees to work on a holiday, but  ultimately it is the shoppers who decide – if no one was lining outside Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving night, then Wal-Mart would not be open on Thanksgiving. Those customers in line must ask themselves, years from now, will they remember the Thanksgiving spent with family or the price they saved on a new television.

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