Why Are We Mad about Thanksgiving?

This year several stores and malls have announced that they’re joining the movement to turn Black Friday in to Black Thursday. They’ll open on Thanksgiving for shopping. Personally, I won’t shop on Thanksgiving. I don’t like crowds. But I’ve been curious about the animosity spilling out on Facebook to stores that will be open and people who might shop the sales. Most of these objections take the form of “It isn’t fair to workers, everyone deserves a holiday.”

It strikes me as strange because of course, many people have always worked on Thanksgiving. For starters, there are the “necessary” workers, police officers, doctors, nurses, 911 dispatchers, firefighters, etc. Then there are the less-necessary, but still very helpful workers. Grocery stores for example are usually open on Thanksgiving for people who run out of butter or beer. Gas stations, airports, hotels, restaurants, bars, and zoos are also open on Thanksgiving keeping thousands of people who work there away from their families so that thousands of other people can get to their families or enjoy time with their families (or away from their families as the case may be).

Then there are the people whose jobs are unnecessary and unhelpful who have been working Thanksgiving for years. You may be aware of something called “football.” For the football games that are played on Thanksgiving not only are the football players working, but thousands of other less well-paid workers, from cameramen to stadium cleaners, are working hard for our enjoyment. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade also employes thousands of people from streets and sanitation workers to extra police officers to logistics people.

So, why are stores that are opened for shopping being singled out for scorn? One of the most common answers I got when I asked this on my Facebook feed was that it was about greed. People found it greedy for stores to be open and having people work. I don’t understand this point at all. I’m not sure if anyone has noticed but the primary reason for professional football games is greed. The games exist to make money for the NFL, team owners, and advertisers. The MACY’S Thanksgiving Day Parade is a corporate event. So why is it wrong for the stores, who are already advertising during the game, to try and get that money a little more directly?

“Everyone deserves a holiday.” I agree, but why this holiday? Why aren’t people upset that almost every non-white collar worker in the country has to work on Labor Day, the holiday that was actually created to honor them. Why don’t people object to the “commercialization” and cheapening of the one holiday that’s ever been created for workers?

My friend writes the deservedly popular Mary Tyler Mom blog and when she posted the question “Will you shop on Thanksgiving”on her Facebook page she got hundreds of responses. Some people said yes, some said no. Some said no because it was too crazy (my argument). Some said no because they wanted to spend time with their family. But some said no because “Thanksgiving is for family” or “Thanksgiving is for being with family, not shopping.” (side note: My favorite comment was from the world’s most perfect mom who said you should not even go out for butter on Thanksgiving because you should plan ahead and not need to do so, I’ll get right on that).

Perhaps it’s because my father is an anthropologist, or because I’m from a minority religion, or because my family doesn’t always do things the “normal way,” but I’m always struck by people who can state with conviction that there is only one way to celebrate something. People find it hard to believe that within this country we have a variety of sub-cultures. I came across this all the time when I was writing about weddings. In some cultures an apron dance, a money tree, a potluck reception would be considered tacky. In others, they’re the norm. All of those cultures exist within this country.

I think the reason so many people find it so distasteful that stores would be open on a day they wish to spend with their families has to do with a clash in culture. You don’t chastize people on Facebook for watching football on Thanskgiving, even if you choose not to do so. Watching football, watching the parade, traveling to see family, these may or may not be what you choose to do, but they’re acceptable ways of celebrating the holiday in your sub-culture. Shopping for bargains, lining up to save a few hundred dollars on an electronic item is not considered acceptable. As one of my friends said, “The big box stores are OPEN ALL NIGHT LONG, just so some red neck hick can buy a chinese-made 52″ TV, for himself, for $200.”

She’s not alone in this thought that the people who participate in these frantic sales are tacky and greedy and somehow not like the rest of us. They are “People of Walmart” (I won’t link, you can find it yourself) worthy of mockery, and unaware of how to celebrate our holiday appropriately. We bombard people with consumerist images of what it means to be a good parent, a good provider, a successful American, and then heap scorn on them for daring to believe it, for daring to want to go out and get their own 52″ flat-screen slice of the pie at a time that we find unseemly.

I won’t be shopping on Thanksgiving, but I won’t be judging those who do, or those who make it possible either.

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2 Responses to Why Are We Mad about Thanksgiving?

  1. Bill Martin says:

    Soooo, comparing someone making $9 on a 12hr shift (holiday premium) with a football player making $300,000 for 3 hours is your point? Interesting. Besides the apples = oranges comparison, do you care that the employee making $116 (before taxes) doesn’t have a choice? If they refuse they will probably be fired. Are you beginning to see the problem yet? Yes, some people will work on the federal holidays, but they (like myself) have known that all year, and have planned accordingly. However, the CEO who’s decided to get a leg up on retail sales by forcing employees to work or be fired won’t be working; but he’ll still make 800% more than their employee does for that day off. Instead of standing up for the people who could buy and sell you 1000 times over and not miss the money, why not stand up for the people who more closely resemble yourself.

    • You do know that there are plenty of people working the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the football game who also make minimum wage, right? It isn’t just the football players. There are people cleaning the bathrooms, cleaning up horseshit, selling concessions – all minimum wage jobs. Then you have the professional, but not wealthy, people who have to work because of these events: police officers, emergency services, security, cameramen, reporters, etc. Restaurants are also open, mainly employing minimum wage workers. My point isn’t whether or not stores should be open or whether or not people should shop. My point is that “we” seem to be a lot more judgmental of people who do certain Thanksgiving activities than others. We condemn those who want to shop but give a free pass to those who want to watch a parade or a football game. Why? My argument is that its classist of us. We think that certain activities are “ok” and others are not. For the record, I do not shop or watch football on Thanksgiving, but I do eat at a restaurant and I do like the parade.

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