Like many Princeton students, I went home for Thanksgiving and was greeted by a hefty feast and a happy family. We went out after dinner to see the fireworks display nearby — it's not exactly the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but the city closed off a few blocks, and food vendors lined the streets to take advantage of a crowd in the mood for eating.
However, as we walked back, I couldn't help but notice the enormous posters and banners, mounted in almost every store window, that were boldly announcing Black Friday sales — 20, 30, 50 percent off, to commence at 6 a.m., 5 a.m., even midnight. Of course, Walmart had everyone else beat and was starting at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day — two hours earlier than last year — which is just a ridiculously early opening time for a sale that is supposed to start on Friday. Its employees apparently felt the same way, as there were hundreds of strikes and walkouts at Walmarts across the nation in response to this decision. The 8 p.m. Black Friday opening time was not the only reason for the backlash — there have been protests against Walmart's working conditions in general for months now — but it was probably the last straw for many workers.
I have no problem with the idea of a business, large or small, holding a sale on the day after Thanksgiving, but Black Friday sales seem to overshadow all other obligations to family and friends. As a freshman, this year was the first time most of my friends and I actually traveled home, yet for many of them the plan was to eat a holiday dinner on Thursday and then go straight to a store to stand in line or even camp out overnight to wait for Black Friday sales to start. Some of them decided to forgo the traditional Thanksgiving dinner completely so they could be in line earlier, just to ensure they could get their hands on a new big screen TV or computer. I had wanted to spend some time with my friends from high school over the break, but most of them were busy shopping not only on Black Friday but also on Small Business Saturday. Even when I returned to Princeton, I spotted many people browsing various websites for things to buy on Cyber Monday and overheard many conversations about the bargains people got during their weekend of shopping.
It is understandable that people want to save money on normally expensive items — and many of them do not have work or school on Black Friday, making it possible for them to spend the whole day shopping — but do these people really need a 40-inch HDTV or an Xbox 360 or new clothes or whatever it is that people buy on Black Friday? As with any sale, the thought of getting a “good deal” on something desirable that normally costs a lot is virtually irresistible to most shoppers. Combine that with Black Friday's ideal proximity to Thanksgiving and Christmas — holidays that celebrate abundance and indulgence and gift-giving — and you have a golden business opportunity that has been realized to its full potential.
It appears Thanksgiving has slowly morphed from being a traditional winter holiday, when people came together to eat huge portions and tolerate distant relatives, to merely preparation for Black Friday. We not only take one day off to indulge in copious amounts of food, but also a second day off to spend copious amounts of money buying all sorts of things we probably don't need. As with many holidays in America, Thanksgiving is being slowly but surely spoiled by our culture of consumerism. Yes, it is technically possible to ignore the specter of Black Friday and celebrate Thanksgiving in peace, but not really, when most of your friends are embracing it. I keep reminding them that not buying is an infinitely better deal than getting a “good deal” on something, but it is most difficult to defeat the allure of the shiny, new and cheap. Someone recently pointed me toward the #blockfriday campaign on Twitter, which sums up perfectly the problems with Thanksgiving today and implores us all to go back to what Thanksgiving is supposed to be about: giving thanks and spending quality time with family and friends, definitely not hurrying to “save” money by shopping.
Spencer Shen is a freshman from Houston, Texas. He can be reached at email@example.com.