In the collective minds of many Americans, the fourth Thursday in November will always be associated with scenes of large families gathered around the table, smiling, laughing, Grandma and Grandpa at the end of the table carving the turkey.
But as the face of the American family changes, so too does the way the Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated in America.
Black Friday craziness has not only ballooned into a full-on orgy of competitive consumerism and barely veiled mis- anthropy. It has slithered its way into the holiday itself — the family dinner now becoming just a side dish to the feast of purchases.
People who are supposed to be taking a breath from the hustle and bustle, honoring tradition and celebrating their bounty of privileges. Instead they’re penny-pinching in the punch-and-kick race to the best deals of the American holiday spending season.
Alas, much of what the holiday used to stand for is being lost. Many people watch a few football games, have a meal and then head to the nearest retail store. The sacred gathering of family and fellowship no longer happens over turkey but over sale booklets from Best Buy and Wal-Mart.
“We usually visit my grandparents in South San Francisco, and then we have a big meal,” first year sociology major Laurence Paulite said. “It’s with extended family members too, so it’s from all over California. We all come together for this one night. We have a big feast, and then we’ll spend the weekend shopping for Black Friday.”
The American Thanksgiving experience has evolved over the years.
Several factors contribute to this transformation. One is the divorce rate in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are seven marriages for every 1,000 people. But there are four divorces for every 1,000 people.
Having more than half of marriages ending in divorce makes for plenty split households in this country. It stands to rea- son the warm and fuzziness of Thanksgiving has faded.
“It sucks and I usually try to avoid the whole thing,” Aimee Vardanega, an account manager for Jamba Juice, said. “My sisters are still in high school so I usually go with whatever parent has custody that day so all the children can be together.”
Family arguments are as part of the tradition as cranberry sauce. But it’s usually the kind of innocent conflict that enhances the tradition.
But America’s families are more broken than ever. The pain of being together is often unbearable. If that isn’t a deterrent, the difficulty of reuniting a splintered family is enough to make people long for retail therapy.
“I come from a divorced family and on top of that my parents remarried when I was young and have since then divorced,” former LPC student Rosemary Plute said. “I have siblings from their second marriages. I find that the most understanding parts of my family realize I cannot be in two, or four, or nine places at once. I have to rotate my holidays. Timing many phone calls on holidays is difficult so my thoughts are with them and their thoughts are with me.”
Some simply opt out of the holiday festivities.
According to an article titled “Table for One, Please. A Solo Thanksgiving” published on National Public Radio’s website, more and more people are spending the day by themselves.
“I’m a single gay man, 49 (years old). My parents are deceased,” Joel Goldfarb, a San Francisco resident said in the article. “Friends typically have other plans. I don’t want anyone taking pity on me, so I don’t tell anyone I’m going to be alone. I hate the feeling but somehow survive it.”
Some simply are not big fans of the day and would rather use the time to be productive.
“I never liked Thanksgiving much anyway, so I’d prefer to spend it alone,” Laura Thornton, a student at the University of Chicago Law School also said in the same article. “(I plan to) just chill out with my dog and drink whiskey in my apartment, like I did last Thanksgiving. Sometimes I find it hard to take time out for myself, so it’s actu- ally kind of nice to have this time imposed on me. Plus, hopefully I’ll get a lot of work done.”
Whatever the reason may be (and there are more than just the two outlined here) it seems more and more people are increasingly celebrating Thanksgiving in non- traditional fashions.
The expanding window known as “Black Friday” could have something to do with some’s growing distaste for this time of year.
The roots of the phenomenon may trace back as far as the Great Depression when, according to FDRlibrary.edu, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt attempted to change the holiday to the third Thursday of the year. His hope was to allow retailers more time to sell Christmas items thereby boosting the economy. At the time, the holiday’s date was to be determined by a presidential decree.
Many Americans were upset at the idea of a president trying “to alter such a long- standing tradition and American values just to help businesses make more money.”
For Black Friday (named such as it allows business to be “in the black”) in 2012, U.S. consumers spent $59.1 billion, according to CNN.
The unofficial holiday has become a key date on the country’s economic calendar. It’s an ever-more important injection of funds into a still-mediocre economy, which has yet to fully recover from the stock market crash of 2008.
Black Friday is also vital to many middle class families who still battle the residual effects of the Great Recession that began in 2008. Battling the crowds for the top-notch savings is the best way for many to get the best Christmas gifts for their family.
Is this what Thanksgiving has been reduced to, the kick-off party for biggest shopping party of the years?
An economic boost for the nation and a golden coupon for gift-thirsty families?
That’s such a demotion from the original, noble intent. This can’t be what President Abraham Lincoln had in mind when he made Thanksgiving an official holiday in the midst of the Civil War, 1863.
“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people,” Lincoln’s proclamation read. “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwell- eth in the Heavens.”
This was to be a time of counting blessings, wishing for peace and reflecting on the plight of others less fortunate. That was the intentions straight from the mind of a man commonly acknowledged as one of America’s greatest leaders.
It’s clear that Thanksgiving has evolved to mean different things to different people. But its core principles will always be woven in the fabric of this country for those looking for deeper meaning.
It can be a time for taking stock of one’s life. For letting family know how much they are valued.
For finding a slice of peace and quiet in this hectic world.
Or, for others, what really matters is achieving a different goal— getting the flat-screen television that’s half off at Target.