Thursday, December 1, 2011

Dinosaurs Loved Thanksgiving

Back when I was a high school principal, my blood pressure spiked, for about 13 years.  But that’s not what I want to write about. 

One of the things that used to work my nerves back then was holidays.  Not actually the holidays themselves, but the school days off.  No, I loved the days off, so let me try again to get closer to the object of my administrative vexation:  Over the years I observed that parents and therefore their students, even teachers and staff padded their holidays:  If we had a Monday holiday, absences shot up the on prior Friday.   

When Thanksgiving break comprised Thursday and Friday, folks took off that Wednesday.  Then, when the District conceded Wednesday, absences Monday and Tuesday skyrocketed.  In the latest stage of progressive excess, when Thanksgiving break became a full five days plus two weekends for nine, students and staff tacked on a Friday travel day!   

Proverbs crowded my crabby, principal’s mind:  inches and miles, slopes in bad weather.  Cat’s away…oh, never mind. 

What I’m really getting to is Black Thursday Night.  Must we have Black Thursday Night?  Black Friday sidled up next to Thanksgiving long ago, establishing an uncomfortable cohabitation of the holiday weekend – pure gratitude bumping up next to pure materialism.  Awkward, but separate and distinct.  Acceptable perhaps, as necessary and reasonable. 

But Black Thursday Night intrudes on Thanksgiving, the gentlest of holidays, except maybe Arbor Day.  Black Thursday Night seized the perfectly good tradition and milestone of Black Friday and stretched it out of shape.  Both Thanksgiving and the start of the shopping season are now distorted.  They don’t resemble themselves anymore and my ACE inhibitors can’t quell my exasperation. 

So, I’m casting about for someone or something to blame:  Even though retailers are the frontline perpetrators, it’s hard to impugn them in these economic times.  They’re laden with anxiety and struggling to survive.  They’ve been waiting to get into the black for long months of slow and slower. They say competition from 24/7, 365-days-a-year internet shopping caused them to throw open their doors on a day once sacrosanct from crass acquisitiveness.   

Brick and mortar retailers cite internet vendors’ encroachment into their formerly secure territory as justification for the creeping growth of their hours of operation.  But cyber sellers only identified and capitalized on the shift of tech-minded shoppers.  In 2011, even Luddites are browsing online!   

So “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” as Abraham Lincoln put it when he established the national holiday in 1863, has shrunk again.  That’s right, again; Black Thursday Night is not the first finger to be pulled from the dyke protecting our reflective and peaceful respite.
In fact, it was Franklin Roosevelt who first tampered with the ideal by moving Thanksgiving from the last Thursday, to the fourth Thursday in November in an overt attempt to lengthen the holiday shopping season and bolster retail sales during the Depression. Maybe we should get it over with and move it to the first Thursday after Halloween.
Black Thursday Night, effectively the holiday’s demise as a no-shopping interlude, stems from a steady retreat from wide spread blue laws that once banned shopping not only on Thanksgiving and other major holidays, but also on Sundays.  Today Massachusetts and Rhode Island are the only remaining states to restrict shopping on Thanksgiving.
Black Thursday Night steals a little bit of beauty from Thanksgiving.  It dilutes the meaning and intent.  Thousands of petitioners agreed with Anthony Hardwick, the hourly employee who asked Target to abandon its plans to join the merchandizing blitz.  His efforts were heartening, but alas.  The levy is tumbling down. 
The frenetic and cutthroat environment created by these midnight sprees seems to contribute to the awful episodes making headlines around the country:  Parking lot robberies, shootings, and stabbings; shoppers trampling each other to get at advertised loss leaders; a grandpa accused of shoplifting during the chaotic rush for discounted merchandise; a mother pepper spraying other shoppers to gain an advantage in the surge to buy an Xbox. 
This battle is lost already.  I know.  As Pogo surmised so long ago, “I have seen the enemy, and he is us.” 
We comprise the herd.  We’re the peers who apply the pressure and give into it.  We’re the extinct species whose passing we lament.
I guess I’ll just take another pill.