I’m super excited (and grateful!) to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers. Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.
Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:
If you are one of those people who will be lining up outside of Target or WalMart or Toys ‘R Us or one of the other stores open today, I have only two things to say to you: first, bring a warm coat because it’s pretty cold out. Second, be respectful – and don’t forget to wish the picketers a happy Thanksgiving.
It takes a lot to get me to protest something, and the choice by major retailers to remain open on Thanksgiving falls way, way, way at the bottom of that list. No, other than ogling the crowds when I drive past the strip malls, I won’t give much thought to stores being open today. I am neither “pro” nor “con” Early Black Friday. In all honestly, I simply don’t care whether stores are open on Thanksgiving . . . or Christmas, or Hannukah. I personally won’t be shopping, but not because I morally object to the concept but because I hate crowds and I hate the cold. But I take no issue with stores being open all day – and requiring their employees to work. And here are my reasons.
(1) Many, many jobs require employees to work today.
It’s interesting to me that, during my entire childhood, my Grandpa (and my Uncle Tilly and a couple of my cousins) worked at movie theaters, and no one ever so much as batted an eyelash. For as long as I can remember, movie theaters have always remained open 365 days a year, meaning that my relatives at one time or another missed holidays. Even now, during the Early Black Friday debate, no one ever mentions movie theaters . . . or concert venues, or casinos, or restaurants (where many people head to eat a Thanksgiving meal). Hell, even Disney World, the mecca of family togetherness, is open on Thanksgiving – and it is operating with extended hours: 8:00am to 1:00am! No one says a word about radio announcers, TV broadcasters, journalists, pilots, flight attendants, prison guards, bus drivers; I could go on and on. Sure, some of these jobs are essential – someone has to put out fires and drive ambulances – but not all. And so it begs the question: why is it ok for ticket sellers and projectionists and concession stand workers and guys dressed like Mickey Mouse to miss a holiday, and yet we assume the fall of civilization as we know it if Target cashiers are required to work?
It makes no sense to single out stores. And even stores don’t get equal trashing. For seemingly ever, Chicago’s two main grocery chains have remained open for at least part of Thanksgiving, as have both of the big drugstore chains. Some stores with pharmacies have always remained open the entire day because people do get sick on holidays (I’m sure anti-Early Black Fridayers would like to outlaw that, as well). Perhaps the grocers and druggists don’t court the Early Black Friday crowd, but I have never heard anyone complaining when they realized they forgot the cranberry sauce and had the option of running to Jewel to grab a can.
(2) I grew up in a work-on-holidays family . . . and I survived!!
Growing up, my Dad worked as a police officer and my Grandpa as a motion picture operator. Guess what? Police departments and movie theaters are open on holidays! Attendance at our holiday celebrations was hit or miss. We might see Dad for Thanksgiving, or we might not. Christmas? Grandpa might be there, but Dad might not, or vice versa. One year, we’d have both at the table; the next, we might have neither. I can’t say we liked it, but we didn’t not like it. It just was. We accepted the rotating absences as part of their jobs, the jobs that provided us money to make a meal and buy gifts and live in a house. Eventually, my older sister took a job at a hospital – also open all year. And when I was a teenager, I, too, worked at a movie theater for a few years, meaning I might spend Thanksgiving behind a greasy candy counter squirting barrels of popcorn with butter instead of sitting around the table with whichever other family members had the day off. I truly didn’t mind. It was a job, and I knew the holiday requirement when I took it. Plus, I made more money those days, at least one-and-one-half time, sometimes maybe more. I certainly liked that perq – as did my Dad and Grandpa. That benefitted our family.
The absence of my Dad or my Grandpa or me from the table in no way diminished the holiday. In fact, I think it made us more grateful. We might miss Grandpa at Thanksgiving, so we’d be extra happy to see him on Christmas Eve. And when we could all be together, well, we took a moment and noticed. And felt grateful.
(3) For some people, Black Friday (and Early Black Friday) are a tradition.
The anti-Early Black Friday argument presupposes many things, most of which I believe to be untrue. For example, some assume that having the stores open harms the integrity of family, not only by forcing some members to work but also by giving other members a reason to sneak out early. I beg to differ. Some families bond over Early Black Friday. I used to work with a woman who could not wait to hit the stores early – with her daughter. They loved the adventure of bargain hunting, and they also loved the together time. On Monday, she’d share their war stories, and they were just as good as if not better than anyone else’s holiday-around-the-table tales. Who’s to say that their tradition is in any way less than the tradition of another family whose members chose to stay home all day?
(4) The anti-Early Black Friday argument pre-supposes a family.
This entire discussion presupposes the existence of a family. I was lucky to have one waiting at home for me when I worked at the movie theater, but so many others don’t have that luxury. This year alone, I can name four close friends who will not be spending Thanksgiving with their family, not because they have to work or because of Early Black Friday but because of issues that do, actually, damage families: divorce, discord, and distance. Sometimes even marriage fragments a family; when two people couple, they often have to decide which of their families to see on any given holiday. Others don’t want to be with family because it is simply too stressful or unpleasant. Know why National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is funny? Because it’s about a dysfunctional family, and it strikes pretty close to home. Such familial strife is a simple reality of life – just like working a job at a place that doesn’t close for holidays.
(5) Holidays should be “should” free.
What bothers me most is that the Early Black Friday debate presupposes the existence of a should. It imagines what the holiday should be and foists it upon everyone. I can’t speak for anyone else, but at no time in my life has any holiday ever looked like a Norman Rockwell painting. Until the age of 12, I never even ate turkey on Thanksgiving – we always served homemade ravioli in my Grandma’s gravy (and I miss those days). Should that not have been allowed? What about the year I accidentally dropped the sweet potatoes in the middle of the street while helping my Grandma out of the car? Was Thanksgiving ruined? (Grandma sure thought so … .) It seems strange to celebrate a holiday that celebrates gratitude for peace and freedom by protesting and trying to force everyone to celebrate the exact same way.
(6) Turkey tastes just as good on a Wednesday or a Friday.
Is there a reason a family can’t celebrate Thanksgiving on another day? I know a family doing that this year, not because of Early Black Friday but because of varied commitments and hectic travel arrangements. I know another family that does this almost every year because the son is a policeman. Should they not do that? Do we only have a twenty-four-hour window . . . or else? I’ve always wanted to celebrate Christmas after December 25 so we could cut our costs in half or else buy twice as many presents. But using the Early Black Friday logic, I should not do that because Christmas falls on December 25, period.
It amuses me that people who insist that Thanksgiving must be celebrated today are serving their families a historically inaccurate meal. Historians have proven that Pilgrims likely didn’t eat turkey, but instead feasted on goose or pigeon. Early settlers also had no access to potatoes, white or sweet. And there was no cornbread or pumpkin pie – nothing sweetened with sugar – only parsnips and likely some seafood. It is even more amusing that in 1939, before Thanksgiving became fixed as the fourth Thursday of November, President Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the second Thursday out of concern for the economy: he believed that, if the holiday fell late in the month, Americans would not have enough time to shop before Christmas.
Tradition is nice, but it is meant to be a comfort, not a source of stress. If you’re lucky enough to have a family, bring them together when you can – and be thankful you can. If you hate turkey or can’t afford it, have pizza. Better yet, throw a Peanuts Thanksgiving and pop some popcorn, make some toast, grab a handful of jellybeans, and sit around a ping pong table with some folding chairs and enjoy each other’s company, regardless of the day on the calendar.
(6) Embrace the American right to choose and stay home.
I agree with one argument from the other side: if you don’t like Early Black Friday and want it to go away, then don’t shop on that day. Stay home. Vote with your wallet. After all, we are, at our roots, a capitalist society, and if enough Americans refuse to take part in the sales, the stores will stop holding them. (The fact that hundreds of people form lines that snake around stores tells me that won’t be happening any time soon.) And if you don’t want to work on that day, don’t take a job anywhere that will be open; to me, this includes places that have always been open on the holidays – police and fire departments, hospitals, newspapers, radio stations, movie theaters, airlines, The Happiest Place on Earth. That list now includes retail establishments.
We can’t blame WalMart for the breakdown of the American family. (We can blame it for the breakdown of American small towns, but not the family.) And we cannot – and should not – legislate every facet of American life. Our country was founded on a simple principle: to each his own. Yes, originally, it meant religious freedom, but today it means much, much more. It even extends to shopping on a holiday, if that’s what you want to do.
* * * * * * * * *
I’ll be spending Thanksgiving Day with my family. My Grandpa has been gone for many years, but my Dad is still around and long retired, so he will be at the table. We will eat turkey (I still miss the pasta!) and all of the traditional-but-not-really sides. I’m also hoping to be able to meet up with one of my friends, one who couldn’t spend the holiday with his family. We want to take in a movie, something we did in college, way back when. It’s an old tradition we’d like to bring back, and this year, more than, ever, my friend needs the comfort it brings. So I’m grateful to the movie theater employees who will be working that night, people who – without knowing it – will make his holiday a little more special. I know that, for some, it will be a sacrifice, but for others, it will just be another night at work.