Over the past several years, Black Friday has become more important for some than Thanksgiving. Commercial interests and retailers have appropriated and transformed this once sleepy day after Thanksgiving into 24 hours of shopping gone wild.
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Over the past several years, Black Friday has become more important for some than Thanksgiving. Commercial interests and retailers have appropriated and transformed this once sleepy day after Thanksgiving into 24 hours of shopping gone wild.

Stores open early, crowds queue up in line and on-line in search of bargains, and merchants measure much of their success for the holiday season by the sales racked up in this single day. One might say that's the American way.

That could be. But, we think that there should be another version of the American way -- one that would be much more meaningful for those in need and the citizenry writ large.

This could be accomplished by extending the period for giving thanks to two days as opposed to just the last Thursday of November. What about making the day after Thanksgiving Thankful Friday and dedicating it to more time for family and friends and providing a helping hand to those in troubled circumstances?

This might seem like an outrageous and unrealistic proposal. But, one company has already started the ball rolling in this direction. That company is REI, the national chain that sells outdoor and fitness apparel.

In late October, REI announced that it will be closing all 143 of its stores on Black Friday and giving its 12,000 employees in those stores, its two distribution centers and headquarters the day off with pay.

In an ad explaining the rationale for this decision, REI stated, "For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors. We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth."

Tim Spangler, REI's senior vice president of retailing, took it a little further saying, "We feel that Black Friday has gotten a little out of hand."

We agree with Spangler's assessment and that's one of the reasons we are advocating rebranding and repositioning Black Friday as Thankful Friday. Given the pivotal importance of this day for merchandise sales, we don't expect many businesses to follow REI's lead.

We do believe, however, that they and the shopping public would understand and embrace giving the day a meaning greater than conspicuous consumption or bottom line profits. The reason for this is that in our country today far too many citizens are getting by on far too little.

Kathryn J. Edin, professor at Johns Hopkins University, and H. Luke Shaefer, associate professor at the University of Michigan, highlight this fact in their new book, $2.00 a Day. Living On Almost Nothing in America. Edin and Shaefer focus on the plight of those who have fallen through the safety net.

In their research, they discovered that since welfare reform was implemented with the passage of TANF in 1996, the number of families living in $2-a-day poverty had more than doubled reaching more than 1.5 million households by early 2011. On Thanksgiving and the day after, and the rest of the days of the year these families survive on virtually nothing.

While these families may be at or near the bottom economically, they are definitely not alone in their poverty. Eduardo Porter points this out in a recent New York Times column when he notes, "...nearly 16 million Americans still fall below 50 percent of the poverty line...That translates to roughly $8.60 person per day for a family of four. That group is six million people larger than half a century ago."

It's not just those in poverty. There are millions of others in the United States who are "getting by" on much less than they did before.

Since the Great Recession, millions of workers have left the work force and have diminished resources. Many of those workers still in the work force aren't doing all that well either.

There are millions of "working poor." In addition, as Steven Greenhouse reports in a New York Times article, wages have stayed flat even during the economic recovery of the past six years and "workers' share of corporate income hasn't been this low since the 1950's."

These are conditions that demand a response. They should compel those of us who have more to do and give more. One way this can be done is by reaching out on Thankful Friday to assist those in need.

REI asked people to celebrate the day after Thanksgiving by joining them outside to enjoy the beauty of nature. We ask people to celebrate that day by looking inside to find the beauty in themselves and to share it with others.

This sharing can take many forms. The options are virtually endless.

One approach that might be taken which would benefit both business and the socially and economically disadvantaged would be to do a form of tithing in terms of Black Friday spending. That could work something like this. For every $10 individuals spend on purchases for themselves, they would spend $1 on purchases for others in need.

Truth be told, the nature of the sharing doesn't matter. The fact that it is done does.

We concluded our Thanksgiving blog in 2012 with the following lyrics from a song, The House That I Live In, recorded by Frank Sinatra to encourage unity and tolerance during World War II:

What is America to me?
A name, a map, or a flag I see;
A certain word, democracy.
What is America to me?

The house I live in,
A plot of earth, a street,
The grocer and the butcher
Or the people that I meet;
The children in the playground,
The faces that I see,
All races and religions,
That's America to me.

The house I live in,
My neighbors white and black
The people who just came here,
Or from generations back;
The town hall and the soapbox,
A home for all God's children;
That's America to me.

The house I live in,
The goodness everywhere,
A land of wealth and beauty,
With enough for all to share;
A house that we call Freedom,
A home of Liberty,
And it belongs to fighting people
That's America to me.

In America in 2015, the house that we live in is becoming more divided than ever. Income inequality is increasing, racial inequality persists, and opportunity equality is decreasing for many.

America remains: "A land of wealth and beauty, with enough for all to share." But, it is not being shared.

In times like these, it might be expected that enlightened leaders from the public and private sectors would come up with programs and policies to address these problems and to promote greater unity. Unfortunately, we have not been living in an age of leadership enlightenment. So, as Americans and concerned citizens have done since time immemorial, we must turn to ourselves.

In our 2012 blog we commented,

"We also remember that on this Thanksgiving Day there are those without homes to live in whether due to natural disasters such as Super Storm Sandy or personal circumstances. We know that because of who we are as Americans there are numerous citizens who will reach out and help them not only on this day but throughout the year."

We are thankful that there are citizens of this sort. By making Black Friday into Thankful Friday, we can enlist their assistance to begin the process of repairing, rehabbing, and remodeling the house in which we live to make it a better home for all.

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