Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. No presents to buy (or to receive and return), no decorating, very little stress. Thanksgiving is about what a wise person once told me is the key to happiness – being thankful for what you do have and not worrying about what you don’t. And Thanksgiving is about the three F’s – Family, Food, and Football. What can be better than that?
But some folks are trying to add an “S” to the perfection of thanksgiving . . . Shopping.
There’s lots of outraged conversation, editorials, and Facebook posts about the encroachment of Black Friday on Thanksgiving Thursday. Many stores, including the biggest (Wal-Mart, Macy’s, etc.) are opening up on Thanksgiving night or even earlier in the day. Thanksgiving should be a day for family, folks protest. No one should have to work on Thanksgiving, at least they should not have to work to facilitate something optional like shopping. The service of police officers, firefighters, and convenience store clerks are of course essential.
When the trend of Thanksgiving openings began, I resented the intrusion of Black Friday into “my” holiday. I hate shopping, and I am disheartened by the acquisitiveness that has come to characterize Christmas celebration (ideally, the church would move the celebration of Christ’s birth to some other time of year and leave “Christmas” for unbridled consumerism – but that’s a subject for another blog.) And my heart bled for the oppressed workers who had to leave their family gatherings to sell toys and X-Boxes and coffeemakers.
I just about shared one of those “I Pledge Not To Shop on Thanksgiving” posts on Facebook.
But then I talked to a couple of actual workers at stores opening up on Thanksgiving. I read some articles about those workers. I found out that folks actually compete to “get” to work on the holiday because of the time-and-a-half or even double pay. Working on Thanksgiving means a better Christmas for their families, or perhaps just that their families will be a little less hungry.
The problem really isn’t stores opening up on Thanksgiving. From my position of economic privilege – my wife and I don’t have to scramble for extra pay to adequately provide for my family – it doesn’t cost me anything to poo-poo the stores that open on Thanksgiving and to take principled stands about the purity of the holiday.
There is a basic issue inherent in this issue that goes far beyond the fourth Thursday in November. What are those workers paid the rest of the year? What benefits do (don’t) they receive? A recent news story reported that Wal-Mart had set up a collection for impoverished families . . . of Wal-Mart workers. Because Wal-Mart and other retailers don’t pay adequate wages, costs for basic necessities are borne by taxpayers. It is estimated that one 300-employee Wal-Mart costs taxpayers over a quarter-million dollars a year in public assistance. Perhaps Wal-Mart and other big-box retailers should learn from the king of fast-food – McDonald’s has a hotline, McResources, to help its poorly paid workers sign up for Food Stamps and other government benefits.
Perhaps those of us who don’t like retailers open on Thanksgiving should put our energies into advocating for better wages for employees at those stores the other 364 days of the year. Income inequality is a far greater problem for those who struggle to feed, clothe and house their families than the “outrage” of stores being open on Thanksgiving is for me.
I won’t be shopping today, not because of any principled stand but because I don’t like to shop. I won’t be shopping tomorrow, either. But if you choose to, more power to you. Just remember that the person who stocked the shelves and cleaned the floors and who checks you out may need Food Stamps to feed his or her family.
That’s a real outrage.