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The Sale That Stole ThanksgivingJustin Russell / Flickr

The Sale That Stole Thanksgiving

Nov 26 2013
America's turning into the Land of the Buy-One-Get-One-Free, Home of the Brave-the-Crowds.

The legend of the first Thanksgiving tells of survival against imponderably difficult odds and the celebration of Native Americans and English settlers alike around a common table. With rich and delicious food before them, they thank God for being alive to enjoy all of God's good gifts.

This lore calls to mind the common table of the early church and anticipates the supper of the Lamb, to which Christ invites the faithful of every nation at the end of all things. Thomas Jefferson reportedly regarded Thanksgiving as too Christian (and therefore in violation of his understanding of church-state separation) for the government to proclaim a holiday. It has always struck me as a profoundly religious—indeed, Christian—observance.

Therefore, I find myself dismayed at the backward encroachment of Black Friday—the busiest shopping day of the year and the purported start to the Christmas shopping season—into Thanksgiving Day itself.

Stores have been opening early—say, at 6 a.m.—on the day after Thanksgiving for years, but extremely early openings (4 or 5) have gradually become more common. Target, Best Buy, Macy's, and others caused a stir in 2011 by opening at midnight. Wal-Mart went further the next year and opened in the evening on Thanksgiving Day. This year, nearly a dozen stores—including Macy's, Kmart, Target, Best Buy, and Kohl's—will be open at least as early as that, putting employees to work hours before.

I realize that some people must work on holidays. At 18, my father spent a lonely Christmas as a new Air Force recruit on outdoor guard duty in the sub-zero winter of North Dakota. I've spent part of my own Thanksgivings and Christmases visiting loved ones in nursing homes and hospitals and have expressed my gratitude to the nurses, doctors, and aides who were there to care for them. And while I am glad that firefighters will rush to my aid if I set the kitchen ablaze (it's happened before) on Thanksgiving Day, having stores open for business on that day falls into an different category, meeting only our perceived need to be able to buy what we want when we want it… and at huge discounts.

My feelings go beyond mere nostalgia for Thanksgivings past. Our nationally observed holidays erode, gradually but certainly, with every wave of unending commerce. It's a regrettable and embarrassing move that suggests what we value most is not in fact family, religion, history, or even the cherished notion that God has blessed America. Instead, for us there is no day so sacred that it would keep us from standing in long lines under the glow of fluorescent lights to get a flat-screen TV…while others must stock the shelves and man the registers.

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