Finished your Christmas shopping yet? Me neither. Started your Christmas shopping yet? Ditto.
I’m a terrible (but actually very good) procrastinator. Unfortunately, the calendar this year is putting the squeeze on people like me. The traditional holiday gift-shopping season is Thanksgiving until about 30 seconds before Christmas (my personal best). Last year, there were still nine days – more than a week – left in November because Thanksgiving fell on the 22nd. This year, there were only three days left for November Christmas shopping.
Why? Blame the president and Congress. No, not the current ones, although there’s plenty of reasons to point a finger at them. You get to choose the finger. From 1789 until 1939, Thanksgiving was always celebrated on the last Thursday in November based on a proclamation issued by President George Washington and ratified by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 that the date be set aside as “a day of Publik Thanksgivin’.”
Now, aside from the obvious question that still rings true today, “Why aren’t presidents required to take a spelling test?” that date served pretty well in an era where Christmas shopping largely entailed hopping on your horse and riding over to the nearest general store to purchase something the kids could break before New Year’s.
As technology changed and the use of cars and phones and chain retailers grew, it became apparent (chain retailers made sure of that in their Christmas greetings to Congress) that the last Thursday in November maybe wasn’t cutting it as the kick-off date for holiday shopping.
So, in 1939, another president, this time Franklin Roosevelt, issued a new proclamation moving Thanksgiving to the next-to-last Thursday in November. Sixteen states refused to go along with the edict resulting in two Thanksgivings in the month for different parts of the country and a lot of confusion among shoppers, retailers and turkeys trying to pose as chickens for one day a year.
Congress decided to step in two years later, in 1941, and settle the matter once and for all by passing legislation officially establishing the holiday as the fourth Thursday in November. That’s great for shoppers and retailers if there happens to be five Thursdays in the month but, unfortunately, as with this year, that’s not always the case.
So here we are with, by my count, only 22 days, 23 hours and 59 seconds left to shop. Forget about slow as Christmas this year. We’ve only got about three weeks left.
The numbers for this year’s Black Friday sales seem to bear that out. On Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday alone, consumers spent more than $11.6 billion this year, according to figures released this weekend. That doesn’t include yesterday’s Cyber Monday when an estimated 14 percent of workers were taking advantage of their employer’s fast Internet access to shop online when they were supposed to be working. Last year, total sales for the same period including Cyber Monday totaled $14.1 billion.
That’s how we got the term “Black Friday.” It was the day retailers went from being in the red to being in the black again.