Start the Presses: Stop and smell the turkey

Here's the scene: I'm sitting at the breakfast bar in a condominium rental a few blocks away from the University of Washington, watching the famously gloomy Seattle skies get grayer and grayer. I have to write a column, and I have no idea what in the world to write about.

Suddenly, my mother-in-law, Peggy, muses from the couch:

"The day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, the following Monday is Cyber Monday, so what do they call the shopping day on Thanksgiving? Greed?"

There we go. Greed Thursday.

The Kmart in Burbank opened at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving. Macy's, Target and JCPenney at the Glendale Galleria threw open their doors at 8 p.m. that night, and people started lining up outside the Urban Outfitters at the Americana at 9:30 p.m. That store, which tempted shoppers with half-off prices, didn't even open until midnight, along with dozens of other mall stores.

Reporter Alene Tchekmedyian staked out the early morning shoppers, many of whom had conflicting views about the early-morning and Thanksgiving day hours. Some said the late hours allow time for shopping and family. Others said Black Friday shopping is a tradition, even if they decline to purchase anything, and still another said the early hours essentially eliminated the holiday meal, as half of her family had to show up for work.

Personally, I've never understood the inclination of so many to rise in the predawn hours to join the crush of shoppers vying for that 40% discount on a plasma television. First, I loathe the mornings. One of the reasons I became a journalist is because many, if not most, reporting jobs start after 9 a.m. (I often presumed that was because we needed to allow newsmakers a couple hours to actually do something prior to bugging them for a quote.)

Second, crowds just aren't my thing. I've never shied away from seeing a band I loved because of crowds, but waiting in a long line for an overpriced cocktail in a sardine-parked bar — with no music — struck me as the zenith of stupidity even in my mid-20s. Risking assault because you wrestled the last Tickle-Me-Elmo away from a helicopter mom at Walmart at 6 a.m., similarly, seems like madness.

All this goes to say that I am a bit biased against Black Friday shopping. Or, at the least, I don't understand the powerful hold it has on so many.

But I can let that go. After all, there are plenty of things that happen in this world beyond my understanding that make perfect sense to others. Organic chemistry, for instance, or particle physics, or MMA fighting.

What I have an issue with is the creep of this beautiful North American tradition from a joyful celebration of family and friends into one primarily about commerce. From a time to reconnect with relatives who live thousands of miles away, to abandoning them so you can box up your love with brightly colored wrapping paper and bows.

But that box is empty. Regardless of the gift, it is meaningless unless it means something more than the discount.

Black Friday and Greed Thursday will continue, I know that. The retailers are blaming the economy's slow recovery as forcing their hand, requiring the hours and deals needed to bring in shoppers, that ever-pressing need to bring in more dollars as we become more emotionally bankrupt.

We Americans love to shop, and I just don't see a groundswell of public opinion needed to shame stores into closing completely on Thanksgiving, or even pushing back their opening times past midnight the following day. The retail business follows the shoppers.

But I want to urge everyone to reflect a bit more. Please take a few hours to be with those you love instead of leaving them for the mall. Take some time this holiday season to spend a few hours with that cranky cousin or aunt who have made him or herself miserable from simple loneliness. You can't create joy or peace by sending a card with those words embossed in gold, but you can by reaching out to those who need it.

That's a real gift, but there are no discounts provided. You actually have to do it.


DAN EVANS is the editor. If you don't like something in the paper, it's probably his fault. Reach him at, on Twitter at @EditorDanEvans or at (818) 637-3234. 

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