Turning Thanksgiving into Black Thursday

Anna Shafer is Associate Editor at FRC's Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI). This article appeared in The Christian Post on November 27, 2013.

Thanksgiving is as wonderful a holiday as they come. This American holiday represents the commencement of "the most wonderful time of the year" and celebrates the thankfulness of the early American settlers for their survival. It is a day for reflection in the heart and celebration of the hearth, and in a pluralistic America, it is a holiday sacred to all.

In recent years, Black Friday has been celebrated as a holiday in its own right, with its own rites and virtues, plundering other holidays' themes and imagery to create a bizarre tradition all its own: The day of hysterical shopping blends Christmas marketing with Back-to-School season commercialism and a New Years' Eve-like countdown to midnight.

But this year, corporate marauders have chosen to literally pillage time from Thanksgiving Day itself. Many American retailers will be commencing their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day, rather than doing families the courtesy of waiting until midnight. USA Today reported recently that Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Sears, Macy's, Kohl's, J. C. Penney, and Old Navy are among the chains that will have locations open for business on Thanksgiving. Their likely reasons include a short holiday season and shaky profits in light of a weak American economy.

This decision reflects cynicism on the part of these companies - a belief that many Americans will care more about getting a good deal on gadgets or clothes than spending time with their families. When I think back to my childhood memories of Thanksgiving, I remember pure magic. The years we spent Thanksgiving with my mother's large family were chaotic and beautiful. I'll never forget my grandma's marvelous ability to make a meal and a home look spectacular. As I got older, we spent Thanksgiving with my father's family; I remember the anticipation of everyone's arrival at our house, the smells of cornbread dressing and my grandmother's remarkable sweet potato soufflé, and the wonderful, safe feeling of falling asleep on the couch after our meal, listening to my parents' and grandparents' voices. My memories of the time we spent celebrating each other and our many other blessings are precious to me. I wouldn't trade any of it.

Tragically, half of America's children reach adulthood without their biological parents married to one another. But Thanksgiving is a time when we celebrate the unity that we do have and the family we've been blessed with. Days such as this are all too rare for all of us, but they're especially rare for families suffering from brokenness. The family is strengthened by the experiences shared together on days like Thanksgiving.

By undermining a time devoted to family and the transcendent, these retailers are sending a message that they don't understand how important strong families are to the long-term health of the American economy and their own financial viability.

The fact is the American economy needs strong families. The Marriage and Religion Research Institute's analysis, "U.S. Social Policy Dependence on the Family," shows that the fraction of families intact in an area - that is, the fraction of children who reach 17 with both their biological parents married to one another - has a powerful, positive influence on an area's prime-age male employment levels. It also has a marked negative influence on area levels of poverty and welfare receipt. Put simply: Where the family is strong, the economy is strong. Where the family is weak, the economy suffers. It is in retailers' best interest to preserve the family structure that safeguards customers' financial well being.

Some Americans - doctors, nurses, policemen - sacrifice this precious day for the sake of the common good to provide their communities necessary or emergency services. But customer service representatives and cashiers shouldn't be asked to make the same sacrifice. What does it say of us as a nation that we have become so consumed with consumerism that retailers feel obliged to make sales clerks work on a day devoted to family?

Finally, if customer-enabled retailers successfully turn Thanksgiving Day into Black Thursday, they will undermine the holiday season's warm feeling of family and community - a primary motivation for shopping during the holiday season. If Thanksgiving is undermined, so will Black Friday sales; the retailers will have successfully killed the goose that lays the golden eggs.

I'm excited to begin the holiday season. Corporate Scrooges and overeager consumers notwithstanding, it's still sure to be the most wonderful time of the year. The only things I plan on scoring Thanksgiving Day, however, will be a second helping of cran apple pie and a win over my husband's siblings in Monopoly.