This weekend represents one of the stranger conflations of virtue and vice on the national calendar. On the one hand, throughout the history of the United States, we have celebrated the national holiday of Thanksgiving. Although the dates have changed and it has only been formalized as the last Thursday in November since the 20th Century, we have nearly always set aside time to show gratitude and celebrate the good we have enjoyed.
On the other, since the 19th Century, Thanksgiving has also marked the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. So that’s not new. What is new, however, is the insane violence and disregard for other human beings that occurs the day after and now even on the same day that we give thanks. While it has always been busy and stressful, only in the 2000s have reports of extreme violence become common. Do your own Google search on “Black Friday Violence” to see what I’m talking about.
You’ll notice that the vast majority of the stories are from 2008 and later, and that they have intensified in the last couple of years – even as stores have opened earlier on Friday. In 2011, many stores opened at midnight for the first time. Just last year Walmart and other chains opened at 8pm on Thanksgiving Day. Rather than reducing the stress by extending the shopping season by a few hours, opening earlier seems to have merely fueled the frenzy.
In the name of insane deals on merchandise, insane behavior ensues. Would you be part of a mob that trampled someone to death for $50? Would you pull a gun on someone for $25? Or would you spray someone with pepper spray, get involved in a fist fight, or engage in a shootout for $100? No? All of these things and more have happened during the Thanksgiving shopping spree over similarly trivial amounts of money.
So, in the course of one day we express gratitude and indulge in greed. Wouldn’t it be better to spend a little more time being thankful and a little less being avaricious?