Holiday traditions are evolving to reflect realities of modern life

Dec 1 2012 - 12:09am


Last week, my family traveled out of state to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner at my niece's home.

It was her first time hosting the traditional family event.

She is a nurse-practitioner and had to work the night before, so the only item she purchased before Thanksgiving was the turkey. After putting the enormous bird in the oven Thanksgiving morning, she sat down and put together her shopping list for the rest of the items for the large meal.

She and other family members ended up making three separate trips to the grocery store Thanksgiving Day before the meal was served.

It wasn't long ago that such last-minute shopping was unheard of on Thanksgiving Day. Most shopping had to be done before the traditional holiday, as stores would be closed all day.

My, how things have changed.

In a cultural shift brought about by more women working fulltime, and even a change in shopping habits, many stores have found it makes economic sense to be open on the holiday. Some retail stores that plan Black Friday sales now open on the night of Thanksgiving Day, turning the traditional 24-hour shopping spree into a two-day event.

I think it's a shame holidays like Thanksgiving have lost some of that traditional family time free of the normal stresses of everyday life. And I feel sorry for those employees who now have to work on the holiday.

Still, my niece's life is frenzied enough for her and her husband, with a new baby, her professional career and their small business to juggle. So the convenience of being able to shop on the holiday was actually a break for them.

Another benefit to this cultural change can be seen in my industry.

The encroachment of shopping, both for groceries and retail items, into the holiday, has contributed to an increase in advertising on Thanksgiving Day.

The Thanksgiving Day newspaper has always been the largest, and best-selling, paper of the year. However, this year saw record amounts of advertising as grocery stores added inserts and display ads for people like my niece, and retail stores sought to get the jump on holiday purchasing.

The National Newspaper Association reports that newspapers across the country saw a record number of ads for Thanksgiving Day. The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer carried an unprecedented 87 shopping inserts and weighed in at a record-breaking 6.5 pounds.

The Dallas Morning News' Thanksgiving Day edition saw a 6.8 percent increase in the number of advertisers, making it the largest newspaper ever produced by the company. It sold for $3 a copy.

The Standard-Examiner had an unprecedented 67 preprint inserts, up from 63 the previous year. The paper tipped the scale at 5.2 pounds, which also could be a record.

"Thanksgiving was a shining example of how much newspapers matter to readers and to advertisers -- in fact, to the whole economy," said Caroline Little, NAA president and CEO. "Studies show that consumers consider newspapers their most valuable source for shopping planning information, with 79 percent using preprinted inserts in the last 30 days, and insert use growing most swiftly among those ages 25-34."

Print wasn't the only area where newspapers made advertising gains. Cyber Monday spurred many digital ads at newspaper websites. At the Standard-Examiner, we sold 1,147 vouchers in our first Cyber Monday campaign. Traffic was so heavy that the website actually timed out on Monday.

And the increased advertising paid off for businesses. According to National Retail Federation research, spending over the four-day weekend totaled $59.1 billion, up 12.8 percent from 2011.

Andy Howell is executive editor. He can be reached at 801-625-4210 or

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