It is both a sign of the times and a complaint of the masses older generations bemoaning seeing Christmas items out alongside Halloween costumes and accessories grumpily remembering the days when you saw no hint of Christmas, at least not on store shelves, until after thanksgiving. And amidst those saddened by it, refusing to give in to it are the ones who consistently proclaim it is yet another indicator of our continually more materialistic, consumerist society bent only on getting more and more stuff. Adding to the disgust over black Friday and the inane quest for the hottest toy, the best deal and piles of toys for kids who either end up better liking the box or who lose interest in them in 5 minutes or 5 days, neighbors, office coworkers who seem ungrateful or unaffected by your gift, are the stories in recent years of trampling, fist fights, mauling and even death reported as shoppers rush to battle each other in this shopping bonanza. And now completing the icing on the cake of traditionalist dissatisfaction are big retail giants who opened not 3, 4, 5 AM on Friday but threw open their doors 8 PM Thursday, so zealous holiday enthusiasts could work off their turkey dinner getting a jump on Christmas. Such plans sparked protests and online petitions from Target employees angry about having to work the thanksgiving holiday generating public support for said workers, as the term gray Thursday was born to describe this seemingly unfortunate here to stay phenomenon.

To be clear no one should be trampled and die rushing doors at department stores, nor should store employees just trying to open said doors for monster sales, and it is beyond appalling to find people damaging merchandise in a game of tug of war over clothing, getting into fist fights over the must have toy, neither should getting through the store resemble a rouge game of paintball or a war zone a-la an M rated video game, as if it wasn’t an obstacle course enough with all the people, lines, cash register glitches. But logic dictates some of the responsibility for the disastrous happenings on black Friday lands on the store, and not solely because they were open; rather because they did not adequately prepare for the volume of the crowds or take into account the exuberance they would exhibit, similar to excited fans at a rock concert. Indeed it took some of the tragedies for stores to refine their techniques to keep both workers and shoppers safe.  Still after at least 4 years of dangerous, injurious incidents stores cannot manage crowd control; on customer at a department store described handing out of tickets for more popular items as involving just raising your hand extremely disorganized, something that only leads to mayhem. 2012’s black Friday highlights, or perhaps it should be low lights, included a mob scene for $5 headphones, a Victoria Secret worker who had to take matters into her own hands before shoppers even got into her store, a woman arrested for “cutting in line” in an attempt to leave the store, a man who scared shoppers by displaying a gun; turns out he had a permit so he was not arrested and no one was hurt. Another man fed up with the crowds, the lines or people trying to cut in said lines shocked fellow holiday shoppers when threatened to stab people who got too close to him, though no weapon was brandished and, again, no one was hurt.

However beyond anger and distaste for not even being able to enjoy one holiday before starting preparations for another, the next, beyond people who look at the silly stupidity of joining the hordes on a day like black Friday, now gray Thursday, is a deeper more, profound misunderstanding of what is happening in our culture, and it isn’t just a backlash against people who spend too much money, to impress people they don’t even like, spoil their children with an extravagant amount of gifts, feel they have to one up what they did last year when buying for the neighborhood, the office Christmas party. Anymore you are seen as part of the negatives of materialism if you buy presents, decorations or any item pertaining to the holiday season at all. People who see you buying big ticket items such as TV’s, i-pads, gaming systems automatically assume many things about you that may or may not be true; they immediately assume you intend to over indulge your children, assume you are going into debt to purchase your items, assume you worship things, have no substance, have no concept of what the holiday really means. Forgotten are the ones who plan to buy their big ticket item at black Friday for the best deal, forgotten are the people who budget, plan all year to spend the money they do spend at Christmas, ignored is the fact there are people who can afford things and their kids are, continue to be well adjusted, functional members of society commiserate with their age independent of the game system, i-pad they got for Christmas. Nor is it the same thing when you say no to getting your child a game system, i-pad or other expensive thing because of bad behavior, grades, because you feel they have become too gadget oriented, spend too much time with the game they already have, they are too young for the responsibility that comes with the thing they want, you don’t want their gadgets connected to the internet, want them to save their allowance to buy the thing they want, get a job to buy whatever it is thus teaching them the value of money, none of that has anything to do with how materialistic, or not, the holiday has become. That is called parenting, ensuring your children grow up to be decent productive participants in the world, if only we could stop couching it in a hate for consumerism.             

Further many of the complaints surrounding materialistic holidays have less to do with the things themselves or even the money spent and more to do with “having” to buy for relatives, coworkers, neighbors we don’t like, having to deal with crowds, fellow shoppers who seemed to have swallowed buckets of crazy, having to buy gifts period for all these people, feeling fed up, overwhelmed and completely unenthused before they’ve actually done any holiday preparations whatsoever. And pretty soon the more you listen to people of this mentality talk they ramble about what a chore it is to put up their Christmas tree, untangling Christmas lights, sending all those Christmas cards, who’s going to host the family dinner, whining about who’s going to show up, who’s kids are ill behaved,  not knowing what to buy so and so, I’m tired of wracking my brain trying to figure out what to buy persons on my list, the lack luster social dynamics of the Christmas parties they attend, things that don’t boil down to anti-materialism on principle, anti-consumer society on principle, but boil down to I don’t want to. Which is fine, but please don’t jump on the evils of materialism, the moral high horse of it’s not about gift giving to avoid people calling you Mr. Scrooge or reminding you, you personify the words bah humbug. Other complaints imply people would be more inclined to buy gifts, give people things if not for the shopping experience itself, marred by an inability to find popular items, items your children are looking for, colored by having to resort to online shopping sans being able to examine the item before clicking checkout, never mind the dangers of putting your debit card information into cyberspace, the limited recourse via your credit card company should something fraudulent occur, damage that can happen in shipping, delivery issues, long waits for arrival. Online shopping likewise presents added hassles when there are website errors, order processing errors; they claim to have the item you want but in the end you never get what you intended to purchase only a refund, the time consuming process of  dealing with fraudulent happenings even if everything turns out ok in the end. Every one of the above issues, a matter to take up with retailers not blame on a degenerating society.

These problems can be alleviated by stores having especially hugely popular merchandise in stock, in store where shoppers can easily get their hands on them, no matter when they choose to shop during the holiday season; instead too often in addition to the discounts offered on black Friday you see things only available then, one more lure to bring people into their stores. Big box stores like Wal-Mart, Target need to be careful of store reorganizations that they stock the goods people actually want to purchase, and not what can happen, where they get rid of things customers actually bought and replace it with materials they don’t want, regardless of the time of year. Making said stores easier to navigate by keeping the same placement of products and removing unnecessary displays, end caps, and product hubs where larger aisles are supposed to be creates a far less stressful environment whether you are there for weekly grocery shopping or there with Christmas wish list in hand, they decrease in store bottlenecks and traffic jams and keep older, disabled shoppers from tripping, being turned off to your store by lines to get down aisles.  If you are a retailer with a physical store on top of a website don’t have exclusively online offers, similarly don’t force people to go to your website to find the book, video, they want, don’t wait for a customer, a potential customer to find it on your website to discover you have it, and be willing to match your online price to the same item in store. Yes online shopping has gotten safer, easier, with available in store pick up, but it is still not practical for some products. One recent implementation to bridge the gap between online and traditional in store shopping was introduced recently by Wal-Mart allowing people to place an online order then come into the store, within 48 hours, and pay cash for their items, a payment method that should be adopted by every retailer with both types of locations.          

Stores again do themselves a disservice by not utilizing the staff they have the best  way they can; places like Target stopped calling Christmas trees Christmas trees renaming them holiday trees to avoid offending persons of different faiths, yet refuse to mobilize their Jewish, Muslim and Kwanza celebrating workers to work something like black Friday. However said members of their workforce are more inclined to want holy days in their religion, key days in their culture, off than even thanksgiving; applying this logic before forcing people to work a day usually spent with family is, if nothing else, a gesture of goodwill. Highlighting another point about the backlash to now named gray Thursday openings of stores, aside from the 30 odd years select grocery stores have been open to accommodate people who forgot the cranberry sauce, suddenly need more baking soda or burned the dessert and need to buy something to serve guests, aside from the number of major restaurants serving a thanksgiving meal to people willing to pay $8 for a buffet style setting with all the traditional foods, stores have been opening at midnight for black Friday sales for quite a while now. Sealing it as a true overreaction is the fact that most thanksgiving dinners are had somewhere between noon and 6 pm; by 8:00 in the evening dinner is either wrapped up or people are grazing on left overs, passed out in front of a football game or trying to bring rudimentary order to a massive mess. You would think in a nation clamoring about an obesity epidemic would welcome anything that gets people off their couches, off their posteriors and into some physical activity especially after the average calorie counts you consume at such a holiday feast.   

Seeing the massive turn out at black Friday and now gray Thursday evening events just underscores a need for them, Americans trying to be what financial experts begged them to be, frugal; not to mention some openings were decided by an abundance of consumer request, based on consumer opinion polling. Reality is in this economy discount events being the only way they are going to have a television at all, their child a computer for college; bringing us to another point, the only way they are going to have a Christmas at all. At the same time early appearance of Christmas and other cultural holiday decorations, accessories and gift offerings allows poorer people, people on tight budget, and who isn’t the latter these days, to see what is available save their money, budget and plan accordingly. Individuals, families looking to replace old, worn out items like Christmas trees, burnt out lights also benefit from this as it allows them to replace such items in early November so they don’t have to run right out after thanksgiving looking for  holiday staples they need, still able to enjoy displaying said decorations. Not only is it better for people to pick and choose purchases but is ideal for individuals furnishing a first apartment or house with holiday supplies, preparing for Christmas parties that can  happen all month long in December. Yes there was a time when black Friday wasn’t such a big deal, when there wasn’t such a frenzy over discounts; at that time we weren’t in the midst of a recession, coming out of a recession, it wasn’t so hard to get buy, to have limited material things. It is now.       

In all our tirades about the commercialism of Christmas, we seem to have forgotten that there are only 2 major gift-giving holidays in American culture Christmas and a person’s birthday. In all our tirades about materialism, we have somehow forgotten what gifts can communicate. We have grown so anti-gift we have forgotten what they can mean, when yours is the only gift someone receives. I have heard preachers and psychologists say that it’s not about material things it’s about relationships, that kids don’t need things they need love, need time with parents and loved ones, but the truth we have lost sight of is, they need ALL of those things. No it’s not all about gifts but they are a part of love, making a person feel cared for and valued. It’s sad in the 21st century with all the inroads we have made toward tolerance, acceptance, allowing people the social freedom to live their own lives, we don’t understand people do what works for them, they make budgets according to what they need, what’s important to them and everyone is unique to that person, their family, the persons on their Christmas list and no one should be shamed for gift giving for generosity, or for buying what they saved for all year. It says something pretty craven about our society when we are willing to deny our children, the individuals in our lives the things they can have, the things we can give them because they happen to be material possessions, because we are lazy and don’t want to buy gifts, because it’s easier to rage about materialism than put some actual thought into a gift, admit we can’t afford certain items, to have the discussion about why you really don’t want them to have that thing or are so caught up in religiosity you think Santa Clause is evil .