Black Thursday?

With Thanksgiving right around the corner and Christmas less than a month after that, be prepared to hear the usual laments about the commercialization of the holidays.

In fact, this year be prepared for a little more pronounced critique. As major retailers keep pushing back the start of the Christmas shopping season, some fear that Thanksgiving might lose its status as a significant holiday altogether.

Black Friday, typically this country's biggest shopping day, has become quite the ritual. Many families that get together for a turkey feast and fellowship on Thursday wake up bright and early the next day to take advantage of holiday shopping sales. Hordes of bargain-hunters are lured to the malls, large department stores and boutiques long before the sun comes up.

Feeding into that consumer frenzy, retailers have made their openings earlier and earlier. It is all about the competitive advantage of starting first.

Not long ago, Black Friday began at 6 a.m. On Friday. Too many stores were opening at the same time, so the real early sales began starting at 4 a.m. Then midnight.

Lately, sales have begun on Thursday. This year, many outlets that used to be closed all day on Thanksgiving to give their staff a holiday and chance to be with family, are opening Thursday morning.

"The floodgates have opened," said Roger Beahm, professor of marketing at the Wake Forest University School of Business in Winston-Salem, N.C. "People will turn Thanksgiving Day shopping into a tradition as they historically have on the day after Thanksgiving ... And stores don't want to be left behind."

Thus far, the Friday portion of Black Friday remains the busiest shopping day of the year. In 2012, the day produced $11.2 billion in sales -- 4.3 percent of the holiday shopping season. But that was a slight drop from the year before, possibly because some of the sales are shifting to Thursday.

Should that shift become a long-term trend, some name changes might be in order. If Black Friday isn't capable of being contained to a 24-hour period, perhaps Black Days will be more appropriate. Even scarier to contemplate is what to call Thanksgiving if it becomes the busiest shopping day of the season.

For the time being, we won't think about such heresy. Instead, we will look forward to continued traditions of turkey and football -- while we still can.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net