Based on its propensity to steal other birds' fish, Ben Franklin once judged the eagle "a rank coward" and "a bird of bad moral character." He was therefore pleased that one official rendition of the national symbol looked more like a turkey, "a bird of courage" that, according to Franklin, "would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on." While Thanksgiving as a national festival of turkey consumption evolved decades later, one wonders whether it ever would have if Franklin's vision of American poultry pride had caught on.
A later threat to the national holiday also emerged in Philadelphia, when civil servants ruing the chaos inflicted on the city by post-Thanksgiving stampedes of suburban shoppers dubbed the occasion "Black Friday." This dark tradition has since grown so out of proportion as to reverse-migrate to the land of Franklin's redcoats, where the foreignness of Thanksgiving did not prevent an outbreak of American-style Black Friday shopping melees last year. Meanwhile, here in the former colonies, the commercial kickoff has been encroaching on Thanksgiving itself, with major retail chains pushing their openings - and many Americans' working and shopping hours - into the holiday.
Now, in a reprieve for those who prefer to limit Thanksgiving consumption to the literal kind, Black Friday may have begun to consume itself.
Outdoor gear retailer REI has led the backlash by giving employees not only Thanksgiving but also the next day off with pay - an admirable stance even if it did give the company an opportunity to encourage everyone to "opt outside," where presumably they would engage in activities requiring them to buy stuff from REI when it opens. A major British retailer that took Black Friday transatlantic also canceled this year's festivities amid general consternation over scenes of electronics-driven strife. And several American stores are at least scaling back their Thanksgiving hours.
Major chains such as Walmart, Sears, and Macy's are still opening on Thanksgiving, but many have been spreading their sales across the month; Consumerist noted that a number of retailers have announced "Black Friday" sales that aren't even in November. Along with growing online sales, this diminishes the impetus for the sort of "doorbusters" that have occasionally turned into people-busters. Last year's Black Friday weekend sales were off 11 percent, Bloomberg reported, even as overall holiday spending rose.
Many Americans will be kept from a proper Thanksgiving by want and duty. The need to staff and patronize big-box stores should not be added to the obstacles. Those Americans who can keep their holiday should do so with all the obstinate pride of Franklin's fearless turkey.