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Stay home and sleep in this weekend: The Black Friday madness isn’t worth it (literally!)

This weekend is Thanksgiving weekend, traditionally one of the longest weekends of the year (owing to Thanksgiving always falling on a Thursday).

It’s also traditionally the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, and is thus a very important time of year for retailers.

Since the turn of the century, major retail chains have gone to increasingly extreme lengths to draw in foot traffic the day after Thanksgiving, a day that has come to be known in the United States and around the world as Black Friday.

Many readers may not be aware that the term Black Friday originated in Philadelphia in the 1960s, and initially referred not to merchants passing the break-even point (climbing out of the red and into the black), but to the heavy traffic on the city’s streets, which created headaches for law enforcement.

Philadelphia businesses didn’t like the connotations of the nickname “Black Friday”, and for a time, they promoted a different moniker: Big Friday.

But their alternative never caught on with the press or the public. Black Friday stuck, and nowadays, retailers are among its biggest promoters. Many chains spend significant resources advertising their Black Friday sales. They open their doors early (like at 4 AM) and offer what have become known as doorbusters – big-ticket or hot items that they sell at a loss in order to entice people into their stores.

Executives at some chains are so eager to see Thanksgiving weekend sales get started that they’re ordering employees to report to work on Thanksgiving.

No, I’m not making this up:

Remember the halcyon days of 2011, when Thanksgiving involved turkey, giving thanks and hanging out with your family all day — and then lots of people got up at the crack of dawn the next day for Black Friday shopping?

Apparently those were the good old days.

Target and Walmart will both be opening the evening of Thanksgiving to kick off holiday shopping deals, with Target announcing Monday they’ll open at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving; Walmart and Sears will do the same thing, but an hour earlier — starting their “Black Friday” deals at 8 PM on Thanksgiving.

So much for Thanksgiving being a family holiday.

Thankfully, Target and Wal-Mart’s decision to force their employees to come into work on Thanksgiving has resulted in a backlash. More than 30,000 people have signed a Change.org petition urging Wal-Mart to cancel its plans to open on Turkey Day. A similar petition to Target has amassed ten times as many signatories.

On a related note, many Wal-Mart workers are joining part in an effort to threaten a strike on Black Friday. Wal-Mart executives have become increasingly concerned about the possibility of a widespread strike, and have now ironically filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which represents workers at many of Wal-Mart’s competitors and has been trying to organize Wal-Mart for years.

(NPI stands in solidarity with our brothers and sisters at UFCW; we salute them for all their efforts to hold Wal-Mart, the Beast of Bentonville, accountable).

The Canadian nonprofit AdBusters, which gave the Occupy Wall Street movement its name, is once again urging its supporters to not shop at all on Friday and instead observe “Buy Nothing” Day. Their pitch:

Until we challenge the entrenched values of capitalism – that the economy must always keep growing, that consumer wants must always be satisfied, that immediate gratification is imperative – we’re not going able to fix the gigantic psycho-financial-eco crisis of our times.

The journey towards a sane sustainable future begins with a single step. It could all start with a personal challenge, such as this: make a vow to yourself to participate in Buy Nothing Day this year. This November 23rd, go cold turkey on consumption for 24 hours … see what happens … you just might have an unexpected, emancipatory epiphany!

We think the concept of “Buy Nothing Day” is compelling, given our society’s unhealthy infatuation with consumption. But for those who are not as socially and environmentally conscious, there’s actually another good reason to stay home, sleep in, and skip the dark, cold, and (very possibly) rainy lines in parking lots: Research shows the best deals of the season aren’t available on Black Friday.

Decide.com, a research firm specializing in tracking the prices of electronics, has analyzed years of price data and concluded that Black Friday – along with its digital counterpart, “Cyber Monday” – are overrated:

Planning to get in line for Black Friday? Expecting to spend next Monday glued to your computer? Boy, have we got some big advice for you: Sleep in on Black Friday and skip the Cyber Monday hype.

That was the results of our exhaustive research into historical prices of holiday items over the past two years. We found that the deals you see aren’t deals at all. Nine of the 11 major consumer product categories averaged a lower price during this week leading up to Black Friday and the week right before Christmas.

We tracked millions of price movements from dozens of the top retailers—including Amazon, Best Buy, Sears, Walmart and more– during the 2010 and 2011 holiday shopping season. From all that data we compiles a list of products you’re better off buying at other times during the holidays.

Decide’s team says that the best time to buy cameras, televisions, vaccums, hot toys, and espresso machines is before Black Friday. (So, days like today). The week before Christmas is the best time to buy many kitchen appliances and laptops. That said, Black Friday is a good time to buy home fitness equipment and video games.

But those two categories are the only exceptions.

Retailers love that many people are obsessed with the idea of getting great deals on Black Friday by camping out early or getting in the door first, and have done everything they can to encourage people to make shopping their religion.

People like this Florida woman:

Itzaida Diaz plans to spend more than $1,500 at Best Buy on Black Friday, and she’s willing to camp out in front of the store for nearly a week to make sure she gets the best deals.

“We’re really doing it for my son who landed second in line last year. He has a very competitive spirit,” said Diaz of east Orange County, who set up two tents outside the East Colonial Drive electronics retailer Saturday night. “He wants a Toshiba 40-inch flat-screen TV, and we’re also getting tablets, Sony PlayStations, Blu-ray players and other things.”

Since Diaz and her family are first in line, they’ll receive tickets to Best Buy’s limited-quantity doorbuster deals when the store opens Thursday at midnight.

“I know this is crazy, but we’re actually spending quality time together, and we can save up to $200 at the same time,” said Diaz, who is taking off time from work as an accountant.

Here’s an idea, Itzaida: Why don’t you pack up the tent, go home, prepare a hearty meal for Thanksgiving, enjoy that meal, and play a board game with your son and other family members? Then, if you feel like shopping later on, power up your computer and browse for prices on electronics online. Do some research (use Decide.com). Make a purchase or two if you’re convinced you’ve spotted a good deal. But don’t blow that much money on one day at one store in the wee hours of the morning. Don’t spend your holiday in front of a big box store.

Retailers have every incentive to make us all believe that our holiday weekend is best spent at the mall, in their stores, loading up our credit cards with debt and buying as much stuff as possible. The implication is that buying stuff will make us happy. But the holiday we’re celebrating this week is Thanksgiving – not Black Friday. And Thanksgiving is an occasion to be content, not greedy.

Too many people seem to have lost sight of what Thanksgiving is all about, not least the executives of Wal-Mart and Target. I’m happy to say I don’t patronize those chains. I prefer to shop local, to shop union, and to shop organic whenever I possibly can. (That’s why PCC Natural Markets – which will be closed for the entire duration of Thanksgiving – is my favorite place to spend money).

We at NPI believe Thanksgiving is, or should be, primarily about three things: giving thanks, spending time with family, and contemplating the improvement of the human condition. There are many people on this Earth who simply do not enjoy the freedoms or creature comforts that we Americans have, and Thanksgiving is as good an occasion as any to remember that there are millions of people living without shelter, clean water, or adequate food.

This Thanksgiving weekend, if you’re fortunate not to have to work, consider donating to a charity like MercyCorps and relaxing at home instead of fighting the Black Friday crowds at Bellevue Square, Southcenter, or Alderwood Mall. You’ll save money, and you’ll have the chance to make the most of your time off, too.

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