Black Friday Starts on Thanksgiving This Year, But We're Not Thankful For It

In recent years, you might have noticed that retailers have decided to open their doors on Thanksgiving in order to start Black Friday a little earlier. Kmart, Macy's, and Walmart are just a few in on the fun. Over at Slate, Matthew Yglesias argues that it's a perfectly reasonable thing to do — all the people saying an earlier Black Friday is terrible for employees should consider that some want the extra hours and the overtime pay. But is he right? Are we all up in arms over nothing? In a word: no.

Placing the labor exploitation argument aside for a moment, let's think about exactly why it's important for stores to be open on Thanksgiving. No, seriously, I am dying to know. Why? I mean, I know this is America and capitalism is our religion, making shopping some sort of holy experience. But seriously?

The traditional "holiday season" yields two important days for retailers: Christmas and Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a holiday that focuses on family and food (and definitely not the fact that, oops, the whole thing was inspired by an era that kicked off the genocide of Native Americans). But the positive association of this holiday — with its message to give thanks — has been overrun by Christmas, or, more accurately, shopping. Yes, shopping is all in the spirit of giving, but it's also in the spirit of having a materialistic impulse to buy things. Because the real thing that makes Christmas so well-suited to America isn't Christianity — it's all the stuff.

Put another way, a holiday that stresses being happy with what you have and celebrating those you love is being trampled on by the hyper-materialistic aspects of another holiday. And the result of all this? Not only are we as a culture basically deciding that giving thanks for what we have is lame and unnecessary, we're deciding that it's more important to actively be unhappy with what we have by buying more things. And, unfortunately, retailers have to pay the price of our need to pay their slashed prices.

But what if Yglesias is right? What if employees really don't mind working Thanksgiving? Well, for one thing, Yglesias offers up a very scientific sample size of two people he once talked to on Christmas to support his claim, only one of whom said she liked the overtime. But what if she was was simply attempting to act cheerful in front of a customer? Or what if she was one of the 2 million retail workers living near or below the poverty line, the ones who need in-store food drives just to have a Thanksgiving of their own? Heaven forbid these multibillion-dollar companies pay their workers a living wage.

It's telling, really, that Costco, one of the few retail giants that allows employees to unionize and pays them relatively very well, will not be open on Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, Walmart, with its long, long history of anti-union policies, doesn't even have the decency to stay closed until after dinner. Their stores are almost all open regular business hours on Turkey Day (and that's including the stores open 24 hours a day).

It's true that some of the employees coming in on Thanksgiving might be happy for the extra hours. But using that to justify this self-serving, greedy business practice ignores the overall problem. We have an issue with materialism in this country. We are willing to sacrifice a holiday about being happy with what we have in favor of shopping for more things, and the attitude is being encouraged by companies that exploit their workers.

So this Thanksgiving, don't go shopping. Eat lots of food, fight with your racist relatives, say something outrageous when it's your turn to list what you're thankful for. But don't play into this game of endless shopping. Just don't.