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Down With Thanksgiving Shopping! Maybe.

Is the retail encroachment into Thanksgiving day worth fighting?

I’ve been known to be a party pooper, a real Debbie downer (sorry Debbie) when it comes to certain kinds of indulgences. Keep this in mind if you keep reading.

Black Friday. Fine. After a day of gastronomic excess, we launch into a season of consumer spending that many of us will regret well into 2013. But a Black Friday that begins on Thanksgiving Thursday is just too much, or is it? 

The argument was succinctly made by P.C. Richard & Son (on Facebook, of course) that retailers who chose to open their doors on Thanksgiving “show no respect to their employees and families, and are in total disrespect of family values in America.” 

I’m inclined to agree, though the invocation of “family values” is questionable now that the phrase has been politicized into ruin. 

In an article about Thanksgiving retail "blue laws" in New England, The New York Times reported that a nationwide protest is developing against the practice, with workers at some stores threatening to strike and online protests drawing “hundreds of thousands of signatures.” Retailers counter that many workers volunteered for the shift because they need the extra holiday pay. 

I get it. When I moved back to New Jersey from California in the fall of 2008—you remember fall 2008: economic collapse; historic election; mortgage defaults so widespread they'll make you shrug off the impending “fiscal cliff"—anyway, publishers across the nation were slashing their workforces at the precise moment when I badly needed to work. Nobody in my field was hiring, so I drew on a secondary skill set and took a job as a banquet server at a restaurant that mandated holiday shifts. 

After six-and-a-half years of celebrating most Thanksgivings, Christmases, and Easters on the other side of the country, this didn’t make my relatives or me happy. I needed the money though so, like most of you, I did what I had to do. And, as soon as I found another job, I quit. 

About.com reported that “a record number” of major retailers (200+) were open on Thanksgiving this year. Many of them at least gave employees time to feast with their loved ones by staying closed until evening (K-Mart, Sears, Toys ‘R’ Us, Target), but plenty welcomed shoppers early Thanksgiving morning (Big Lots, Family Dollar, Old Navy, The Gap). 

As the curmudgeon in me was lamenting this “disrespect,” my inner skeptic was arguing, “What about movie theaters, convenience stores, and restaurants? Should those businesses be closed too? You needed ice and bought it. Is the great Thanksgiving tradition of escaping to the cineplex really more virtuous than escaping to Walmart?” 

I’d be a hypocrite to say it is. 

Still, I lament the consumer encroachment into one of our few remaining national sabbaths and I’m more inclined to shop at Macy’s, Best Buy, P.C. Richards, and Kohl’s next month because they gave their employees Thanksgiving day off—well, except for Macy’s. Their workers were hosting a little parade in Manhattan and extravagantly advertising for you and me to indulge, indulge, indulge, because Christmas is almost here! 

Self-righteousness is a circular road, you see. Some roads, fortunately, are straight and true.

With Thanksgiving pies, wine, and spinach dip loaded into our car, my husband and I took a detour east on Mantoloking Road yesterday so that I could visually record the storm debris sitting on people’s curbs before it gets carted away. I was surprised to find that the checkpoint blocking passage to Mantoloking had moved east all the way to the western base of the bridge. 

We unexpectedly caught our first real glimpse of what Hurricane Sandy did when it breached the barrier island at Herbert Street. It was a stunning sight.

Two police cars blocked passage into Mantoloking and three National Guardsmen sat outside a tent at the base of the bridge with a fire burning to keep them warm. 

I yelled out to them from across the road, asking if they would get a good Thanksgiving meal. They said they would and seemed glad for the momentary diversion. I thanked them for their service to our community. They thanked me too, for my support. 

We don’t debate whether or not public servants will work holidays. They, and we, understand that crime, illness, accidents, and natural disasters have no regard for human traditions. We appreciate the fact that men and women like them protect us and our property from negative forces that would encroach upon us and that which we cherish.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in this. Perhaps some borders really are worth protecting.

Or, is it too great a leap to make from protecting a breached barrier island to a keeping borders around our shared national sabbath?

What do you think?

Lorraine November 25, 2012 at 07:49 PM
The start of Black Friday is at Midnite, retailers should not open till then!! It should be the law!!!
Fred Grygiel November 26, 2012 at 11:35 AM
Too many "Black Friday's": Houses/mortgages we can't afford; Cars/loans we can't afford; college education/loans we can't afford; and credit card balances we really can't afford. So why do we get so deep in debt? We are told it's our "duty" to make sure companies make a profit keep the economy growing! Happy Holidays! aka Shop till you drop! Drink & Shop Responsibly! Right!
lifelonginbrick November 26, 2012 at 06:36 PM
I will never shop on Thanksgiving and think it's shameful to not allow employees a single day to enjoy the holiday with their families. There is just no good reason for this latest moronic gimmick from retailers. Many employees are being told that the extra hours are their new 'bonus'. Wow. Thanksgiving is one of the only pure holidays left. It requires that you just get together with your friends and family for a meal - no pointless spending and going broke on cr@p that people just don't need - just turkey. Can't we as a society put aside ONE day where crass commerence doesn't ruin such a simple holiday?
lifelonginbrick November 26, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Yeah....except what if all employees would rather have one lousy day off with their families? Trust me the grunts in retail are not making that much money even at time and a half to be worthwhile. Also with regard to malls. If the mall management is keeping the mall open then ALL of the stores MUST BE OPEN. They have no choice to 'opt' out of the madness. We used to own a shoe repair in the mall and had to stay open for the crazy holiday hours even though we saw no real business during the holidays. The mall debated being open one year during Thanksgiving but backed down due to employee outrage - we were going to pelt people who showed up to shop with Turkey Giblets....
anonymous March 26, 2013 at 12:48 AM
The only thing black friday does is show you how much you are getting ripped off every other day of the year.

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