How Corporate Greed Killed the Thanksgiving Holiday, in One Chart


When they aren’t combatting unionization and underpaying workers, big box retailers like Walmart keep busy by desecrating American holidays.

This year, chain stores have responded to mounting concerns over the frenzied and increasingly deadly nature of Black Friday shopping by cutting down on sensationalism, eliminating time-limited "doorbuster" sales, and discouraging pre-sale camping in mall parking lots, especially in areas with below-freezing nighttime temperatures and wintry weather.

Just kidding! Instead, retailers have decided to outdo one another by opening earlier than ever: on Thanksgiving itself, a day that they're trying to give the scatological nickname of "Brown Thursday." 

The above chart, from Northwestern weekly The Inlander, shows shopping’s insidious, year-by-year creep into a day on which we’re supposed to be spending time with our loved ones and giving thanks for all the crap we already have. As recently as 2009, none of the stores listed were open or holding holiday sales on Thanksgiving itself. Then Toys R Us went and ruined everything forever.

See the full chart here, dating back to 2006.

While the chart may seem discouraging, it should actually give us hope. Thanksgiving Day sales are clearly a recent, and reversible, phenomenon. Even Black Friday's positive connotations are relatively new. According to language columnist and lexicographer Ben Zimmer, the term was initially used by shoppers and police departments complaining of crowding and chaos, until it was rebranded to describe profitability (i.e., balance sheets getting "back in the black") in the 1980s. 

In reality, the hype surrounding holiday weekend shopping isn't driven by savings from blow-out sales, but by market research purchased by retail organizations. One such researcher, Matthew Ong, told the Los Angeles Times that the idea that Thanksgiving weekend is a one-time savings opportunity is, "Not even close to the truth ... Consumers make poor decisions when they're under duress, and this is most obvious on Black Friday."

Thankfully, there's one simple solution that can save Thanksgiving. All you have to do to defeat the crass consumerism of this holiday season, from early-morning stampedes to fistfights over immersion blenders, is what we as Americans do best: nothing. Opt out of Black Friday and "Brown Thursday," by staying at home. Gorge yourself on leftover sweet potatoes and pass out sitting up. Change into your fat pants. Drink. Tell outlandish lies to young relatives. Try to care as the Detroit Lions maybe defeat the Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin. Have another slice of pie, and try to figure out if there's still meat on the bird. Whatever you do, just don't go to the mall.

After all, if the true meaning of Thanksgiving isn't gathering relatives together to overindulge in nutmeg-spiced foods and take extended afternoon naps on the couch, I don't know what is.