Holidays, not holiday

The holidays are upon us once again. Notice the plural there: holidays, not holiday. This time of year, people all over the United States are getting ready for Christmas, having just finished celebrating Thanksgiving and Halloween before that. The thing about Christmas, especially the shopping that comes with it, is that it’s slowly but surely taking over the other fall and winter holidays.

This just doesn’t sit right with me. I can’t be the only person that has no urge to hear Christmas carols in September. No one aside from Buddy the Elf can possibly want to hear Christmas music that early in the year.

Along with the music, the shopping trends have simply gotten out of hand. Black Friday might as well be renamed Thursday Night Terror. Numerous stores including Target, Wal-Mart, Macy’s and Best Buy have started opening their doors for the Black Friday shopping madness on Thanksgiving night.

The problem with this is two-fold. First, we expect and actively encourage employers to cut their employees’ Thanksgiving short. Second, the hypocrisy that comes with this encouragement is astounding: we just finished talking about how happy we are to be with our families and then we go out and shop till we drop and hardly notice whether the person at the register is even human, let alone whether they have a family or not. We don’t care about anyone but ourselves at that moment. We’ve given the holiday it’s lip service and it deserves nothing more.

Most of us gather with our families and friends and watch football and stuff ourselves with as much food as possible. Talking about what we are thankful for and how blessed we are is more than commonplace for most of us. These Thanksgiving traditions are a wonderful thing. They tend to help us realize just how lucky we are and remember that there are people in the world less fortunate than ourselves.

These noble ideas are tossed aside once the sun goes down on Thanksgiving night. For too many people the materialism that has become the focus of Christmas takes over as soon as the dishes are done and the football games are over. Thanksgiving night has become a battleground. There is no war quite like the war we wage against our friends and neighbors over some ridiculous deal on some material object that we think we need.

This isn’t exactly a rant against capitalism or consumerism. After all, capitalism and consumerism make the economy go round and every retailer is out to make money. However, there has to be a point where enough is enough. Why do we expect the people employed by big box retailers to give up their holiday to meet our consumerist wants a day early? Simply put, we just do. These stores began opening earlier and earlier and we just went along with it instead of telling them, “No, I can wait until tomorrow for that. Let your employees have the entire day off.”

What used to be an “early Friday morning” thing slowly became a “technically it’s Friday” thing when stores began to open at midnight. Eventually that was replaced with “well, tomorrow is Friday, might as well get started now.” If you really consider what is happening, there’s a good chance that Black Friday will soon be replaced with Black November. We’ll eventually just be able to go from gorging ourselves on candy on Halloween immediately to the madhouse of the Christmas shopping season without bothering to stop for a few days and just be happy with everything we have.

Not all of the big box retailers are guilty of pushing us earlier and earlier every year. Nordstrom and Ace Hardware are two of the good guys here. Both stores have effectively said some things are more important than money and are closed for the entire Thanksgiving holiday so their employees can have the same chance as the rest of us to be with their families.

The state of Rhode Island has taken that just a step further and made it illegal for big box retailers to open their doors on Thanksgiving. While this seems over-reaching and unnecessary, we’ve proven over the years that it is, in fact, very necessary with our willingness to throw aside the thankfulness of Thanksgiving in favor of a better deal on a television large enough to cover an entire wall.

The argument can be made that these people are being paid to work these days and that it is no different than essential services being available or the NFL players “working” on Thanksgiving. There is a difference, and a big one. Essential services such as hospitals and utility companies are usually staffed with a bare minimum of workers who have volunteered to work that day because they realize that accidents simply don’t acknowledge federal holidays.

As for the football players and team staff that work on Thanksgiving, most are given ample opportunity to spend time with their families in the days before the game and in many cases are with their families anyway. One notable example is John Harbaugh, the coach of the Baltimore Ravens. His daughter was on the sidelines with him during this year’s Thanksgiving game.

Along with that, the vast majority of players recognize exactly what the Thanksgiving holiday is for and spend their day before or after their games volunteering in their local communities at soup kitchens and other places that are there to help service those people who aren’t as well off as themselves. The part that goes without saying is the difference between being paid millions of dollars to play a game and being paid minimum wage to take part in a storm of bargain shoppers that seriously injures or kills a few people every year. Yeah, there is a big difference.

The entire point of the holiday is being eroded away until we forget the noble intentions that were behind it becoming a federal holiday in the first place. We can do something about this by refusing to buy into the consumerism earlier than the day after Thanksgiving or, as an even more extreme measure participate in Buy Nothing Day as a message to retailers that we won’t let them dictate our shopping habits.

Black Friday isn’t going anywhere. It’s expanded into Small-business Saturday and Cyber Monday and will continue to expand further and further into December. And that’s fine. ‘Tis the season, after all. But, how about we give the other holidays that Christmas is encroaching upon in November and October their due and refuse to let Christmas take them over? We can wait one more day for those deals, can’t we?

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