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Shopping: As American as apple pie on Thanksgiving

People crowd the first floor of Macy's department store as they open at midnight to start the stores' 'Black Friday' shopping weekend.

Thanksgiving shopping creep, Gray Thursday, or whatever you call it, stores are opening their doors today. They are trying to get us to buy instead of falling asleep on the couch. And a lot of folks are grumpy about it.  But why?  A whole lot of other places are open too. 

On my way to work this Thanksgiving, I stopped at the grocery store to buy some milk and a pumpkin pie. I stood in line for a latte at the coffee shop. People were working. People were buying.

“There’s a tremendous amount of commerce going on on Thanksgiving,” says Boston College professor Ellen Ruppel Shell. “For some reason people are outraged by the idea of retailers being open on Thanksgiving, but really it’s just more of the same.”

Restaurants are cooking. Airlines are flying. Movie theaters are popping popcorn. And that Ravens-Steelers game isn’t going to get played without a whole lot of folks hard at work. So, what’s the big deal about retail stores opening up on Thanksgiving day?

“Shopping is one of those things that is viewed as crass commercialism,” says Wake Forest University professor Roger Beahm. But, Beahm says Thanksgiving shopping makes some sense: Not everyone wants to watch football. For some folks, racing around Target is the perfect post-gorging activity.

“We are continuing to evolve as a society,” he says, “traditions change over time, and so we’re seeing a new tradition move into place.”

This evolution -- adding shopping to a list of Thanksgiving day traditions -- shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, says Joseph Goodman, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

"If Thanksgiving and apple pie are American, so is free market and shopping," he says. "What better way to celebrate to celebrate Thanksgiving, some people might say, then to celebrate the free market of America.”

Being American is also about doing what you want. Making your own call. Whether it’s buying a TV. Or sitting at home with family. Digesting. Cheering on your team. And dozing off.

About the author

Adriene Hill is a senior multimedia reporter for the Marketplace sustainability desk, with a focus on consumer issues and the individual relationship to sustainability and the environment.
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This story completely ignores the low-wage workers at retail outlets who are basically forced to work on Thanksgiving Day. What kind of choice do they have? "Being American is about doing what you want"? Really? Are you kidding me?

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