For the record, I didn’t invent the term Gray Thursday. I wish I had – and I even thought I did. But as a matter of journalistic integrity, I did some research on the term to see if anyone else has hatched it first. And someone has. I’m not at all certain of the origin of the term, but it did appear in this news video from PBS in November of 2012. Loosely speaking, Gray Thursday – yes, Thanksgiving Day – is the day before Black Friday, and it’s a development that’s killing Thanksgiving as we’ve always known it.
The real meaning of “Black Friday”
I did some more research on this as well, cheating by using Wikipedia. The real meaning of Black Friday isn’t entirely clear. Though it’s thought to be the traditional day in which retailers finally begin to turn a profit – going from being “in the red” (the old accounting way to disclose net losses), to being “in the black”, which is the color net profits are reported in.
The term actually originated in Philadelphia as far back as 1961, where it was used to describe “heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic”.
Whatever the original intent of the term was, the Friday after Thanksgiving has become the traditional start of the Christmas buying season frenzy. It has only become more intense each year, as the big box retailers duke it out to see who can draw more of the consumer’s dollars by offering lower prices, bigger sales, and even more extended hours.
Smaller retailers and independent shops have mostly just been dragged along for the ride. Many consumers, on the other hand, have become more than willing participants.
Why it’s spilling into Thanksgiving – Gray Thursday
The easiest explanation is the “more is better” mentality. If Black Friday is a good thing for retailers, then pushing it forward into Thanksgiving itself is even better. And since Thanksgiving is already a holiday, and most people are home from work – or at least they used to be before Black Friday formally invaded and subdued Thanksgiving Day – what better time to pack the stores?
There was a more specific explanation for this phenomenon in an article last week. I apologize but I don’t remember the article, and didn’t save the link, but here’s the Cliff’s Notes version:
Since big box retailers dominate Black Friday, online retailers – primarily Amazon.com – got the jump by launching their sales on Thanksgiving day. Not to be outdone, the big box retailers are now pushing their Black Friday sales into Thanksgiving itself.
If history is any guide, the opening of retail stores on Thanksgiving Day is likely to advance to well before the 10 PM or 8 PM start on the holiday. Eventually, it’s not hard to project that Black Friday sales will begin on the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving, and run straight through the holiday as if it never existed.
Why Black Friday – Gray Thursday is neither beneficial – nor benign
Call me cynical, call me a buzz killer – call me anything you like – I don’t think this is a positive development, no matter how much money retailers make or how much money consumers may save.
The purpose of holidays, and especially one as significant as Thanksgiving, has always been to give people rest from their labors, and a chance to spend special time with loved ones. Many of the holidays, including and especially Thanksgiving, also have a strong religious purpose – as day set aside for worship and appreciation for what has been given to us by our Creator.
For many families, Thanksgiving and Christmas may be the only days out of the year when they spend an appreciable amount of time together or see extended family. But let’s admit it – traditions in America are dying fast. Money is all that matters, right? And everything else needs to be torn down if it gets in the way.
Thus Thanksgiving joins Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Veterans Day, and other holidays, as just another mega shopping day.
Why should we be worried about this? En route to becoming a true 24/7 economy, the basic fabric of both family and community is being torn apart. People are called upon to work on Saturdays, Sundays, and now holidays. Time with family is being compromised. Most of the people who are being forced to work on these days are at the lower end of the pay scale – they have to work in order to make more money, or out of fear of losing their jobs if they don’t.
On that last point, at a major chain grocery store in my neighborhood – that will be open from 6 AM Thanksgiving morning until 1 AM Friday morning – all employees are being required to work for a minimum of four hours. On Thanksgiving. By shopping on the holiday we’re feeding into that dynamic!
Where once the holidays were a chance to break bread with family and friends, and to build relationships and memories, they’re quickly morphing into just another day in our non-stop 24/7 world.
Like we don’t already have enough changes pulling society apart
Is this really just about Thanksgiving and Black Friday? If it were, there wouldn’t be as much reason for concern. But this is a bigger picture problem, and one that’s becoming systemic in our society.
We are a society that is highly transient, driven obsessively by the desire to earn and consume, and struggling with divorce, broken families, latchkey kids, drug and alcohol abuse, and the highest rate of incarceration in the free world.
I’m of the opinion that most of this can be traced to a departure from the basic pillars of civilization – faith, family and community. Each of those three institutions has been systematically devalued in our culture. Traditions are a big part of what supports those societal institutions. That includes spending time with family, attending worship services, participating in community involvement, saving money (rather than spending it), making productive use of our time, and observing holidays. Black Friday and Gray Thursday are killing one of the biggest holidays of the year – Thanksgiving.
This development, in my opinion, is a microcosm of all the other problems that we have. There isn’t a tradition that exists in our culture that we will uphold if money hangs in the balance. Take away traditions, and you get a sterile culture with no human connection.
Is saving a few bucks on Christmas shopping worth the bigger costs? Or should we keep pretending that there is no real connection?
Vote with your feet and stay home
So here’s my suggestion, not only for Thanksgiving but also for Black Friday. Stay home and enjoy your family and your dinner. You may want to add some worship in there too. Just look around – our society is in desperate need of divine intervention. Much as we like to think that higher education, government intervention and our “miraculous” technology can fix all of our problems, it’s obvious that something’s fundamentally wrong. Black Friday and Gray Thursday do nothing more than add to our already long list of cultural problems.
Forget about the sales – forget about buying bargains for Christmas – stay home and reflect on the bigger picture, and what you can do in your little corner of the world to stop the collective bleeding.
Stop participating in the madness. Let the big-box retailers know that they’re not going to make your holiday irrelevant, force you or your family members to work on a day that should be spent at home with family, and that there are in fact some things in life that are more important than money.
What are your plans for Thanksgiving and Black Friday? Do you plan to stay at home and observe the holiday – or follow the herd to the mall to continue feeding the beast?