Sunday November 18, 2012

LENOX

Time to talk turkey about Thanksgiving and what’s happening to the unique holiday celebrated by just about everyone, no matter their faith or national origin.

It’s the quintessential American celebration steeped deeply in tradition going back to the Pilgrims -- a day of gratitude for the many blessings bestowed on us by the harvest season.

The resulting bountiful feast beckons families, even dysfunctional ones, to a gathering suffused with affection, one hopes, tolerance of eccentricities and forgiveness for past sins, real or imagined.

That said, and at the risk of appearing to audition for a Hallmark greeting card or a cable movie on Lifetime, it’s a difficult period for families that are broken or impoverished.

Fortunately, there is much generosity reflected here in the Berkshires through donations to local food pantries and church outreach groups.

But there’s a dark cloud hovering over Thanksgiving, though not in Massachusetts [yet].

Call it "Christmas creep" or, as the politically ultra-correct prefer, "holiday creep." It shows up the day after Halloween, when many merchants put up their decorations and start pumping out details about the super-deals shoppers can anticipate on Black Friday.

That’s the undeclared national holiday when throngs of consumers descend upon the big-box stores to snatch up bargains, trying to avoid being trampled in the process.

Now we’ve got what might be called Black Thursday.


Advertisement

Building on a phenomenon first spotted last year, many major retailers plan to open the floodgates as early as 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s doorbuster (almost literally) sales begin at that hour by popular demand, according to the behemoth company’s marketing executive Duncan Mac Naughton, who told the New York Times: "We got customer feedback that says, ‘I like to shop earlier so I can go to bed earlier,’ so we looked at the balance of being competitive in the marketplace and being customer-centric."

Sears also will open at 8 p.m. , followed by Target and Toys ‘R’ Us at 9 p.m.

Think that’s outrageous? Think opening on Thanksgiving night mars the holiday? Here’s what Kmart cooks up.

For the second year, it’s going whole hog. Attention, Kmart shoppers: Except in Massachusetts and Connecticut, its stores will be open from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, then re-open from 8 p.m. until 3 a.m. on Friday, then close for two hours and open up again from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m.

Online petitions have been circulating to combat these retail gun-jumpers; Walmart store employees have organized a formal protest, citing a disregard for their family celebrations.

Is there really a great demand among shoppers for these Thanksgiving intrusions? An Ipsos survey shows only 6 percent of Americans plan to go shopping on Thanksgiving night, while 20 percent intend to wait for Black Friday. The rest of us will take our time or, much to the dismay of big-box chains, peruse online offerings for our gift lists.

Massachusetts and Connecticut remain protected by Colonial-era blue laws that bar retailers from opening on Thanksgiving or Christmas (except for certain categories such as eateries, gas stations, florists, pharmacies and convenience stores).

But never fear: The Berkshire Mall and its anchor stores will open at 1 a.m. on Friday, their earliest yet. You can even pick up the heavily stuffed Eagle Thanksgiving Day paper, chockablock with ad inserts, for two bucks on Wednesday evening at 6 from selected stores.

Good for Sam’s Club, a division of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., for bucking the trend by waiting until 7 a.m. on Friday (two hours later than last year) to open up with coffee and pastry for shoppers.

As company executive Todd Harbaugh put it: "If they want to chill out on Thanksgiving Day and not go out and get into the rat race of everything, they can do that. Our members said they want hassle-free shopping." Well-put, especially coming from a retail exec. For my money, opening up at dawn on Friday and preserving Thanksgiving as a day of family celebration is a demand that should be popular.

Clarence Fanto is an Eagle staffer. He can be contacted by email at cfanto@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter at @BE_cfanto.