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Why 'Black Thursday' Isn't Bad For Everyone


Finally today, some thoughts about so-called Black Friday, which actually started on Thursday this year. You know what I'm talking about, the big-box department stores, mainly: Wal-Mart, Kohls, Target, JCPenney. But also stores like Toys "R" Us and Best Buy opened anywhere from 8 PM to midnight on Thanksgiving Day to lure shoppers in with deep discounts on everything from appliances to pillows to computers to cameras.

There were some protests and some petitions from people, asking the stores to respect the holiday and allow employees to stay home with their families - even to wind it back to the good old days when stores opened at dawn on Friday. But that was a nonstarter, and by all accounts, millions of Americans flocked to the stores on Thanksgiving Day itself, turkey and football be damned.

Is this a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing? I ask this as a person who grew up with what I call rolling holidays. My father was a firefighter when I was growing up and most of my friends' parents did similar work. They were cops, nurses, firefighters and EMTs - although one glamorous cousin was actually a flight attendant. That meant that Thanksgiving could be Thursday, could be Friday, could be Saturday. Really, it would be whatever day or hour dad or mom came home from work and we could all be together. The same was true for Christmas.

Sure, there was a tradition in my father's work - at least as I remember it - that the single guys would trade days off with the guys with kids so they could be with their families on holidays, but it was understood that this was not always possible, and I grew up with the expectation and understanding that there were times when you just have to do what you have to do. So I wasn't shocked or particularly upset when for most of my career I had to work the holidays. To be honest, back then I actually kind of liked it. You could bypass family drama, coworkers often brought in treats, and if there was a big story, I might as a rookie actually get to do it, instead of being bypassed for somebody more senior. And to be really honest, there was a sense that if you were working on a holiday, then surely you were doing something important, important enough to sacrifice being part of our national day of celebration or playing your own role in it. Few people, after all, feel sorry for all the football players and Thanksgiving Day Parade participants giving up their holiday who are in their own way working.

So what does the move to Black Thursday shopping mean? Does it mean that shopping has become so important that it must be done on a day of celebration? Or is it that shopping now is our national celebration? Or is it that in these trying times anyway, early bird shopping is another way of saying; I'm just doing what I got to do? I say this because some of the stories of the early bird shoppers were touching in their own way. I read, courtesy of the Washington Post business reporter Abha Bhattarai, of the mom who sent her son to his grandparents for the holiday so she could get to Wal-Mart to buy him a PlayStation. And the man who waited on line for eight hours to buy a computer because he said it was the only way he could buy it at a price he could afford.

It's easy to moralize about why spending time with family should be more important than buying stuff. But why don't we just admit, it's easier to moralize when you can sit at home in your bunny slippers and order that PlayStation or iPad online and have it dropped off at your convenience. It's easy to feel bad for all the folks who wish they could be home with their families and are instead waiting on all the people getting away from theirs. Harder to know what is the just and fair way to handle that.

Too bad we can't do it the way they used to at the firehouse. Just trade places with the people who really want to be there with the people who really don't.


MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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