Are retailers destroying an American tradition?

November 29, 2011

Political Theory


There have been other posts on this blog that address the issue of Black Friday and how it ruins the tradition of Thanksgiving. This post addresses how the tradition of Black Friday is being ruined by its increasingly early hours and how that in turn ruins the tradition of Thanksgiving.

There are few holidays or celebrations that celebrate America quite like Thanksgiving. This holiday dates back to before America was a nation and is a staple and one of this country’s strongest traditions. One of the greatest things about Thanksgiving is that it is strictly American. This is not a religious holiday; all Americans celebrate it. Traditions range from family to family. Some spend the day watching football and some brave the cold weather to watch a parade. Yet, a consistent tradition that is exhibited by Americans across the country is having a Thanksgiving feast with good friends and family. Regardless of what your tradition is, you have one, every family does.

Another great tradition that many Americans take part is the one directly after Thanksgiving, Black Friday. It’s the biggest shopping day of the year. People eagerly get up at crazy hours in the morning and drive to the store to wait in line for deals on electronics, appliances, clothes and more. Many times you’ll even see people in line late into the night on Thanksgiving Day itself.

I always thought it was sort of silly for people to abandon their families on Thanksgiving to wait in a line for hours for a good deal. Now, retailers are ruining two traditions many Americans have. Some retail stores plan to open their doors for Black Friday deals at 9 pm on Thanksgiving! For an article about this and some more Black Friday store hours click here.

Now obviously no one needs to take part in the tradition of Black Friday or Thanksgiving for that matter. However, traditions run deep in individuals and their family and people look forward to their traditions for months. These retailers are making it so in order to take part in one tradition (Black Friday) one must forgo parts of another tradition (Thanksgiving). Obviously I am speaking about those that celebrate Thanksgiving and are shoppers on Black Friday, yet it also needs to be noted that employees of these retailers are seriously affected. They are indeed forced into coming into work and must leave their families early. In addition, by opening their doors earlier, old Black Friday traditions may be ruined too. For example for many years me and my brother would get up at three or four in the morning and go to Target or Best Buy or where ever. A lot of the fun was waking up in the middle of the night. Now that part of my tradition is gone. I’m still up and wide awake when these stores are opening this year.

Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America mentions tradition. He noted how Americans destroyed the tradition of primogeniture. Tocqueville says, “Now, as soon as you divest the landowner of that interest in the preservation of his estate which he derives from association, from tradition, and from family pride, you may be certain that, sooner or later, he will dispose of it.” Tocqueville argues that the creation of a society where anyone can climb the social ladder stems from Americans abandoning tradition. The point being that if we break from tradition, dramatic changes can arise. He also argues that when tradition breaks, a sense of individualism takes over. The quote mentions how landowners will sooner or later dispose of their land for the financial benefits. This shows that the landowner would rather be well off financially than keep with tradition. So when we keep with tradition, we maintain a sense of community.

Do you think by retailers opening their doors on Thanksgiving have a significant effect on Americans’ traditions? Do we risk losing a tradition or part of a tradition with this change? Does the holiday itself risk losing a traditional aspect? How about the famous shopping day afterwards? Do you think tradition is truly significant in maintaining our understanding of American society?

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One Comment on “Are retailers destroying an American tradition?”

  1. daniellwang Says:

    Although the author of this post is more focused on the aspect of tradition, I think there is a more interesting topic that is brought up in a sidenote of the post. The author talks about how Tocqueville argues against the breaking of tradition, and how a lack of tradition can lead to individualism. I think that it is a strong sense of individualism that is causing these retailers to break this tradition. It seems that the retailers’ sense of individualism has led them to impinge on certain traditions of Thanksgiving in order to generate more sales and make more money. This specific incident doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to me, but I think that the willingness of the retailers to sacrifice tradition for revenue may be somewhat troubling. It may bring up the question of how far are the retail stores willing to go in order to increase their sales.

    On the other hand, traditions change. With the retailers’ changing their opening times, they could be starting a new Thanksgiving tradition. The next generation of children could grow up with memories of going shopping with their families after Thanksgiving dinner. Traditions are not necessarily set in stone. As society changes, our customs and traditions adapt to fit the new culture.

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