As more American stores open on Thanksgiving Day, or open earlier on that sacred holiday, they break a key limit on the commercialism of Christmas. If Thanksgiving is lost, Christmas might be, too.
Someday, Americans will look back and remember when Christmas came after Thanksgiving.
Not only are more stores putting out Christmas items and decorations as early as September, now three big retailers – Wal-Mart, Target, and Toys R Us – will be opening even earlier this coming Thanksgiving Day in a race to launch Christmas sales.
And for the first time, Macy’s, JC Penney, and Best Buy will join this snatch-’em-early competition by welcoming shoppers to their Black Friday sales the day before – when many families will still be chomping turkey or watching football.
Or counting their blessings, which just happens to be the original reason for the holiday.
Last year, 35 million bargain-stalking Americans left kin and pie to shop on Thanksgiving, up from 29 million the year before. Will the number reach 100 million within eight years (2021)? That date will mark the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ thanksgiving feast.
This new norm means retailers – and consumers – are treading on a sacred holiday. But the commercial trespassing also puts a burden on store employees who may prefer to spend this special time with family and friends – even if they can earn double wages.
And how badly do retailers really want to risk destroying the essence of Thanksgiving? After all, the day has long been the marker for the start of the Christmas season – and a reason for the start of a shopping frenzy. Lose that day and the significance of Black Friday may erode, and along with it higher profits for stores.
Despite these reasons to retain boundaries around Thanksgiving, the real problem with stores opening that day is that it breaks a social limit on Christmas consumerism. Crass commercialism has long assaulted the Christian holiday, but until recent years, it was mostly contained within a few weeks. Losing Thanksgiving is a step toward losing Christmas.
No wonder many clergy are speaking out. Evangelical pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California, for example, refers to the store openings on Thanksgiving as “an avalanche.”
Across the Atlantic, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Anglican Church, worries about the rising pressures to buy more Christmas gifts, calling it “absurd.”
In a TV interview on Tuesday, he said: “The secular over-the-topness, everything you have to have, new clothes you have to have, new this, new that, new the other, is ridiculous, it shouldn’t happen. It puts pressure on relationships because when you’re short of money you argue. You get cross with your kids more easily. It spoils life.”
The archbishop wants giving at Christmas to reflect the generosity of God. “Be generous in a way that shows love and affection rather than trying to buy love and affection,” he said. “You can’t buy it, you can show it. And when you show it, it comes back at you with interest.”
Abandoning all or part of America’s Thanksgiving – or even abandoning one’s family on that day – in order to shop for bargains hardly reflects generous affection. Perhaps the best gift this Christmas is not to shop on Thanksgiving. That might help ensure that Christmas comes after Thanksgiving.