Open Thread: Is It Ethical to Shop Columbus Day Sales?

In Depth

The all-too inevitable commodification of Columbus Day has fully taken root, as you can probably tell by the influx of promotional emails flooding your inbox this morning.

Sites like Refinery29 and the Business Insider have even gone so far as to compile nifty lists and slideshows of all the sales happening today.

For a holiday that most sensible people are now arguing shouldn’t even exist, Columbus Day seems quite popular with retailers looking to unload their autumn inventory. Many retailers are careful to market these markdowns as “fall sales” rather than explicitly tying them to Columbus Day. The timing, however, gives them away.

And then there are the stores that seemingly have no problem tacking the name of a murderer onto their special low, low prices like Forever 21 and Macy’s. Meanwhile, Lord & Taylor and DFW are offering promo codes like “COLUMBUS.”

There is nothing surprising about this. Nobody can turn a holiday into an opportunity to boost retail numbers quite like America. But today as I cleaned out my inbox and even perused a few sites, I wondered if using the celebration of a man who discovered nothing to get 40 percent off a new pair of jeans jives with my personal feelings towards the day. I don’t support Columbus Day so it would follow that I don’t support Columbus Day sales, right?

On the flip side, we could also argue that my tiny little act of defiance is not going to change the mentality of our country to turn everything into an opportunity to buy things. America is gonna America.

Further, how much do these guilty feelings have to do with the timing of it all? Our collective questioning of Columbus Day is a relatively new issue. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, for example, has become little more than a long weekend and a great time to buy a new TV for many people, but somehow that seems acceptable because we’ve gotten used to it.

I don’t have any great answers here, so let’s talk about it. Is it OK to participate in the commodification of days like Veteran’s Day and Columbus Day? Is it fine to shop these sales as long as you remember what the day is really about? Are you buying anything today?

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