The pilgrims of Plymouth Rock never could have imagined their harvest
celebration would one day become a holiday so squeezed with other activities
that the traditional meal itself has become almost an afterthought.
In modern day, the feast competes with road races, movie screenings, football showdowns and the ever-encroaching creep of the Christmas holiday shopping season.
Every year, Black Friday has elbowed its way more into the Thanksgiving holiday. This year, several national retailers aren't waiting until midnight for the turkey to cool and the sales to begin.
Some, including Target, plan to start the gift rush at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. That has sparked some push-back from disgruntled workers and some who think the move is tarnishing the value of Turkey Day.
The whole thing makes historian Sandra Slater, a professor at the College of Charleston, cringe.
"I don't think the modern Thanksgiving has any resemblance to the original Thanksgiving. Essentially the meal is the only commonality," she said.
Target says it's just giving shoppers what they want. And in fact, an increasing number of shoppers are getting earlier starts on their holiday lists, according to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation.
Target's decision to open earlier this year has led to an online petition signed by many expressing concern and sympathy for the store's employees.
When Target announced its planned hours on Monday, a woman going by the name "C Renee" of Corona, Calif., started an online petition that has since collected more than 200,000 signatures urging the retailer to "take the high road and save Thanksgiving."
Since then, about 40 other similar petitions aimed at other stores have popped up, according to change.org, an online petition platform.
In a statement Wednesday, Target said the "opening time was carefully evaluated with our guests, team and the business in mind. Across the country, team member preferences were considered in creating our store staffing schedules."
Locally, Target employees declined to talk openly. But one worker who requested anonymity said she had asked not to work Thanksgiving night, while a co-worker had requested to work.
"I wanted to spend the evening with my family, but she wanted to work a shift and then go shopping," she said, adding that both their desires were accommodated.
Hungry for sales
Doug Galluccio of Goose Creek might spend Thanksgiving night fighting crowds for a refrigerator for his family's new home in Summerville.
It will be his first time shopping on the holiday. A few years ago, Galluccio ventured out on Black Friday to buy Nintendo games for his kids. "It was rough," he said.
Despite his memories of the crazy crowds and chaos, Galluccio and his wife, Danielle, plan to head to the stores after their Thanksgiving meal and hope for even better deals than Black Friday.
"We figured, we're just sitting around the end of the day anyway," Galluccio said. "The amount of money we'll probably save will be worth it."
While it might be worth the savings, Galluccio shuns many of the early store openings. "It's getting earlier and earlier. It's unfortunate. We're rushing life so much."
At the root of the problem is money, according to William Danaher, a sociology professor at the College of Charleston.
"People are caught in a web of consumerism," he said. "Doing things like getting time off for holidays comes secondary to consumerism and selling things."
Matter of gratitude
Debbie Gupton of Charleston shakes her head at those complaining about working on the holiday. She's been out of work since October from her job as a retail cashier. She doesn't see any wrongdoing in Target's decision to open earlier. She submitted an application to the big box store in hopes of working there herself.
"Would love to be working on Thanksgiving, or any other day for that matter," Gupton said.
Gupton would be grateful for a job. Gratitude, though, has lost its meaning in the national holiday, according to Slater. Consumerism has defiled the holiday, she said, and left many Americans wondering what the day even means now.
"What began as a gathering to show gratitude for the harvest has turned the tables into a feeding frenzy of consumerism," Slater said. "It wasn't about what they would get after Thanksgiving. It was to celebrate what they already had," Slater said.
President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed nationally the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day in 1863. Ironically, a portrait of his life will be projected on movie theater screens around the country this Thanksgiving.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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