Have You Decided What to Say – If Anything – About What’s Happening to Thanksgiving?

Formal celebrations of thanksgiving, of course, are traced back to the settlers who brought their sense of gratefulness to God to more than one day of gratitude for harvest and blessing during their earliest years in America.

In the 19th century, it took Sarah Josepha Hale 20 years to convince a president to connect to the Pilgrim tradition and commemorate Thanksgiving as a national holiday, celebrated at one time by all states. Hale, an Episcopalian, believed it was in keeping with the character of the United States to offer gratitude to God for His blessings on the nation. So, in 1863, when Hale finally convinced a sitting president – Lincoln – Thanksgiving became the third national holiday (following Washington’s Birthday and Independence Day).


Sarah Josepha Buell Hale

Until congress signed it into law in 1941, each president, with the exception of Franklin Roosevelt, declared the last Thursday of November to be designated a national holiday for giving thanks. (To try to spur the economy, Roosevelt wanted Thanksgiving earlier.)

We have turkey because Sarah Hale (again), who wrote many suggested recipes for the day she so strongly advocated, considered it the most traditional. Many Christians through the years have attempted to celebrate with foods they thought would have been expected at any 17th century Pilgrim celebration.

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Hale wasn’t just a promoter of Thanksgiving, but a prominent author

So why am I telling you all this?

Because it appears as though we may be in the midst of the first truly significant change in the way Thanksgiving is celebrated since Roosevelt wanted to adjust the day back in 1939.

Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving Day.

I’m not talking about what has become known as “Black Friday,” but the trend for stores to open now prior to Black Friday on Thanksgiving Day. It started with stores opening at midnight on the Friday after Thanksgiving and has expanded rapidly.

From a Yahoo! News piece:

It’s a break with tradition. Black Friday, which typically is the year’s biggest shopping day, for a decade has been considered the official start to the busy holiday buying season. Stores open in the wee hours of the morning with special deals called doorbusters and stay open late into the evening. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving and Christmas remained the only two days a year that stores were closed.

Now Thanksgiving is slowly becoming just another shopping day. Over the past few years, major retailers, including Target and Toys R Us, slowly have pushed opening times into Thanksgiving night to one-up each other and compete for holiday dollars. Some initially resisted, saying that they wanted their employees to be able to spend time with their families.

This year, more and more major retailers will be opening on Thanksgiving – Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Best Buy to name a few. Nearly half of all Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic stores will be open this year on Thanksgiving morning. Marketing experts now say it’s just a matter of time before Thanksgiving Day itself will become the traditional start to the Christmas shopping season, with Black Friday becoming more and more gray.

Some retailers are pushing back, however. “We believe it is important for our team members to be able to spend this time with their loved ones,” said Travis Smith, CEO of Jo Ann Fabric and Craft Stores. They’ll open at 6:00 a.m. on Friday.

Again, according to Yahoo! News, B.J.’s Wholesale Club also refuses to join in. “Once again, BJ’s is bucking the trend of putting sales on Thanksgiving above family time.” BJ’s will open at 7:00 a.m. on Friday.

For 2015, some stores are actually reversing its earlier policy. For instance, while Staples was open last Thanksgiving, it’s refusing to do so this year.

From a story in the Tampa Bay Times:

Some retailers, like Staples, Gamestop, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Burlington Coat Factory and Costco have decided they’re against opening up shop on Thanksgiving Day and refuse to give in to the creep. These stores won’t open until Black Friday.

For Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, this makes sense. It’s costly to employ workers on Thanksgiving, especially high-end stores whose customers aren’t driven by sales anyway.

For Staples and Gamestop, the policy is new this year.

“We want our customers and associates to enjoy Thanksgiving their own way,” said Demos Parneros, president of North American stores and online at Staples. The office supplies retailer will open at 6 a.m. on Black Friday.

Since leaderhelps.com is designed as a resource for church lay leaders, pastors and ministers, I only write to ask if church leaders will or should be vocal about the trend. This year? Next year?

Will you say anything as you lead your people?

One group of ministers may argue that shopping is just part of the celebration and that there’s no harm in buying Christmas gifts on the fourth Thursday in November. It won’t have a negative impact on a person’s faith so it’s not worth addressing from the pulpit or in small groups. It’s part of our culture and really has been ever since the elimination of blue laws.

Still, others might decide something must be said, defending the sacredness, or at least the originally-intended sacredness of Thanksgiving Day, a day that should be dedicated strongly and exclusively to praise and thanks go God. Anything less misdirects the focus.

Is it time to say something?

[UPDATE: Leaderhelps reader @PaintTheTownAG sent me a note about national buying co-cop REI and its #optoutside campaign. Not only is the company NOT opening on Thanksgiving, it has decided to close completely on Black Friday. Read their statement here.]

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