Why People Shop on Thanksgiving Day

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- Now that we've finally arrived at Thanksgiving, can we place some sort of moratorium on complaining about the holiday shopping that happens on Thanksgiving night?

We've already gone into the hypocrisy of wailing about the commercialism of Thanksgiving shopping while watching floats and balloons paid for by toy companies, retailers and and movie studios parade down Sixth Avenue with Santa Claus in tow. If you watch the Macy's ( M) Thanksgiving Day Parade, you tacitly agree with Macy's position that the holiday shopping season starts once the corpulent red-suited sleigh driver hits Herald Square. That puts Thanksgiving Day shopping at Target ( TGT), Wal-Mart ( WMT), Kohls ( KSS), Sears ( SHLD) and elsewhere on the table right next to the can-shaped cranberry sauce and that larded Midwest casserole dish monstrosity crowding the turkey.

We've also delved into the audacity of Americans who yell about the erosion of family holiday tradition with volume usually reserved shouting at the screen during 12 consecutive hours of the National Football League's Thanksgiving coverage. Remind us again how lengthy video reviews and a href="http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/64201620/">even lengthier explanations of the intricacies of the game to your football-illiterate relatives are time-honored Thanksgiving traditions.

The fact is that in the United States, a nation of 320 million people, it's statistically impossible for everybody to spend the holiday the same way. During my earliest days in this industry, I spent most of my Thanksgiving holidays behind the screen of a copy desk at various New Jersey and New York newspapers getting the ad-heavy Black Friday edition ready for the presses. While serving as assistant news editor at one of those papers, my colleague and I put together Thanksgiving potluck dinners, with everyone bringing a dish. From homemade empanadas to store-bought cookies, it was a huge spread that was about the best we could ask for with the restaurants closed and family dinners miles away.

In 2013, those newsroom dinners don't seem nearly so unorthodox. A CareerBuilder survey found that roughly 14% of U.S. workers plan to spend Thanksgiving at work. The retail workers manning the Thanksgiving sales account for 29% of that total, but 36% of leisure and hospitality workers will also be on the clock. Meanwhile, 23% of health care workers will be on hand in case someone chokes on a bone or burns themselves on a biscuit pan. It gets tougher by geography, as roughly a third of workers in both Atlanta and Denver will spend Thanksgiving with their coworkers.

Even if you have the day off, that's no guarantee you'll spend it with family. When family members live huge distances away and aren't exactly jet-setting members of frequent flyer clubs, they sometimes have to pick their holidays carefully. Though 43.4 million people told AAA they plan to travel 50 miles or more this thanksgiving, that's down 1.5% from last year's 44 million. Of those making the trip, only 67% are doing so to be with family and only 56% are in it for Thanksgiving dinner.

Know what 44% of AAA's Thanksgiving travelers are looking forward to? Shopping. And why shouldn't they? According to a Google survey, 30% of U.S. consumers began their holiday shopping before Halloween. That's roughly the number that an NPD Group survey said would start shopping before Thanksgiving, while the National Retail Federation found that 53.8% of its surveyed consumers had started shopping by Nov. 12.

There's a strong chance that some of those Thanksgiving workers, turkey-averse travelers and people just staying at home will continue their shopping on Thanksgiving day. According to the NRF, 62% of consumers say they plan to shop on Thanksgiving weekend. Of those more than 140 million shoppers, 33 million (23%) say they'll hit the Thanksgiving sales.

That means even a whole bunch of people who'll spend Thanksgiving at a table full of family will spend Thanksgiving night dragging some of that family out to the local strip mall. A Pew Research Center survey from 2010 found that 89% of Americans planned dinner with family on Thanksgiving, but a survey this year by coupon site RetailMeNot finds that about 20% of those Americans will still go shopping just to give their family a holiday activity. Did we mention the 12 hours of football?

That same survey finds that even if consumers don't hop out to the stores, there's a chance that they'll use the family's mid-dinner nap or an especially deep lull in dinner conversation to shop online. According to NPD, more than 30% of Thanksgiving shoppers took the online route in 2011, while the RetailMeNot survey finds 64% will browse online this Thanksgiving. Another 37% say they will use mobile apps to shop during the holiday, presumably while holding their smartphones under the table and pretending their aunt's story about her life-altering summer trip to Spokane has their undivided attention.

Times and traditions change. Before 1966, it wasn't a given that the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions were going to take up a huge chunk of television time. Thanksgiving attendance varies as families shrink, grow or move around. Thanksgiving itself may not be so important to families who'd rather have their loved ones save their miles for the winter holidays or to those whose families don't exactly fit the idyllic image of Norman Rockwell's Freedom From Want.

If sitting at the table with your family is what you'd like to do with your family, go for it. Just don't labor under the narrow-minded delusion that every other American feels the same way. At workplaces, movie theaters and, yes, shopping centers this Thanksgiving, there are millions of others marking the day as they choose. It may not be your idea of a grand tradition, but maybe it's theirs.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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