Op-Ed: Retailers are waging a war on Thanksgiving

Toys R Us is among the stores that will be open on Thanksgiving.
Toys R Us is among the stores that will be open on Thanksgiving.
(John Minchillo / AP)

There has been a lot of talk over the years about whether there’s a war on Christmas. That’s debatable. But there is definitely a pernicious and obvious war on another holiday: Thanksgiving. Every year, retailers greedily eat up more of the holiday and come a little closer to turning Thanksgiving into just another shopping day before Christmas.

Macy’s announced this year that it will open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving (it was 8 p.m. last year and midnight the year before that.) And Best Buy, Toys R Us and J.C. Penney plan to open at 5. These retailers and many others who are following suit seem to feel Thanksgiving is just an inconvenient speed bump on the road to Christmas profits.

But Thanksgiving is not the start of the Christmas shopping season. It is not just another day to buy stuff. Thanksgiving is unique among the holidays allotted by federal law to most American workers. The purpose of the day is, as its name suggests, to give thanks. Who gets thanked? That’s an individual decision. God. Family. Friends. But the day shouldn’t include thankfulness for the opportunity to save money on a flat-screen TV.


There are defenders of Thanksgiving as a shopping day, of course, but their arguments are weak.

Some proponents are people without family or friends nearby, and they’d much rather spend a rare day off work at the mall than alone at home. But no one has to be alone on Thanksgiving. Many charitable institutions need Thanksgiving help serving the poor or the homeless. Volunteers might gain a friend or two while helping others, and they’ll almost certainly find a reason to be thankful. Best of all, they’ll know that their desire for an iPhone didn’t destroy anyone else’s family time.

Some pro-shopping advocates insist that the workers want and need the pay. That may be true of some employees. But there are a lot more who want the day off but are afraid to stand up for it because they know there will be retribution. Don’t believe it? Just type “boycott” and “Thanksgiving shopping” into Google and you get thousands of hits. And Facebook features numerous pages (including one I manage) devoted to keeping Thanksgiving a true holiday.

Some of the things employees have posted on my Facebook site are heartbreaking. One worker at a sporting goods outlet that will open at 5 on Thanksgiving, wrote: “To say the least, we were completely demoralized. There are several of us who will now miss Thanksgiving dinner. And for some of us, the only quality time we have with our families is during Thanksgiving or Christmas.” A department store employee wrote this: “Please help!!.... Our associates work so hard, we need one day off with family! Thank you for your time.”

Is your quest for a bargain really worth taking folks like these from their holiday tables?

Some curmudgeons embrace Thanksgiving shopping because they themselves have to work and wonder why others should be entitled to the day off. It’s true that some jobs don’t respect holidays. Healthcare professionals, police officers and the like fill crucial jobs that have to be performed 365 days a year. But those are essential services. Selling someone a hockey stick can certainly wait until Friday.


Thanksgiving is being killed as surely as you’re reading this. A traditional day of family gatherings and relaxation is dying at the hands of those who can’t wait even six hours to reach into our pockets in order to line their own. But before you head for the mall Thursday, think about the many family gatherings you’re interrupting, and ask yourself why your errand can’t wait.

Jim Sullivan is a freelance writer in Watertown, Mass.

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