The Charlie Brown float in the 90th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (Yahoo!)

An Early Thanksgiving Extends the Holiday Shopping Season

Thanksgiving is earlier than usual in 2018 and no one is happier about that than retailers. The holiday shopping season will be five weeks long, but retailers aren’t waiting for Black Friday to lure consumers.

With nearly two weeks left in November, it’s already beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Pre-Black Friday sales have begun, many commercial streets are adorned with Christmas lights, the Rockefeller Center tree is in place, and 106.7 Lite FM is already playing holiday music 24/7.

Why is Thanksgiving so early this year? You can thank FDR.

Thanksgiving was originally celebrated on the last Thursday of November. In 1939, there were five Thursdays in the month instead of the usual four, causing the holiday to fall at the very end of the month. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, responding to requests from retailers, decided to move Thanksgiving up a week. In 1941, Roosevelt signed a bill officially making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of November. He said it would be a boost to capitalism. He was right.

The Holiday Season is Make or Break Time for Retail

The National Retail Federation (NRF) is predicting this year’s holiday sales to increase between 4.3-4.8% over 2017. Holiday shopping sales have increased every year since 2008. Sales were $501.5 billion in November and December of 2008. This year’s projection is $717.5-720.9 billion.

The months of November and December are make or break time for retailers. Most big box stores will open at some point on Thanksgiving, though a growing list of retailers have committed to staying closed and giving employees the day off, including Barnes & Noble, Costco, Home Depot, Nordstrom and Trader Joe’s.

Thanksgiving weekend includes Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, the official kick-off to a five-week holiday shopping extravaganza. Retailers have successfully tried to attribute the meaning of the term “Black Friday” to the point when stores become profitable, i.e. “in the black.” In reality, “Black Friday” was what Philadelphia police officers called the chaotic (and often violent) day after Thanksgiving.

Just how important are the next few weeks to retail sales? Consider the following:

  • In 2017, 174 million Americans shopped during Thanksgiving weekend (Thanksgiving day through Cyber Monday).
  • Several major retailers rely heavily on fourth quarter sales to make up a large chunk of the year’s revenue, including Macy’s (34.89%), Best Buy (36.45%) and Gamestop (37.97%).
  • According to, November 23 (Black Friday) is predicted to be the biggest shopping day of the year.

The Commercialization of Thanksgiving

Despite the temptation of a good deal, there is a backlash against the commercialization of Thanksgiving. There is even an anti-Thanksgiving shopping page on Facebook (Boycott Black Thursday) with more than 141,000 likes.

In many ways, Thanksgiving is the antithesis of commercialism. It’s a day of great food and wine, family and football. But for some, the holiday also includes the American tradition of capitalism. However you choose to spend your holiday, a Happy Thanksgiving to all!