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The War on Thanksgiving

The right always whines about its contrived war on Christmas. But this year, the real assault is on Thanksgiving, when retail stores will be open—depriving thousands of their holiday.

Richard W. Rodriguez/AP

Forget the war on Christmas. It’s time to talk about a more dangerous assault—the one being waged against Thanksgiving. And this war has real casualties: American families.

On Thursday, while most of us will be stuffing ourselves in the company of our loved ones—or at least our family—thousands of others will be compelled to leave their Thanksgiving celebrations to go to work. Why? Many retail chains have decided to open up their stores on Thanksgiving Day, including Walmart, Macy’s, Target, and Sears. Kmart is even opening at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, while the Gap will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. I guess that’s for people who are desperately in need of a pair of flat-front khakis on Thanksgiving.

We are constantly bombarded by whining from the right over its contrived war on Christmas. Sarah Palin even wrote a book—or at least she allegedly wrote one—about it, which she conveniently released in time for Christmas shopping. You would think the people who want to “keep Christ in Christmas” would be leading the charge to keep the “Thanks in Thanksgiving” and call on these stores to close so that employees could spend the day with their families.

But keeping retail stores closed on the holiday truly shouldn’t be a right or left issue. It should be one that, like Thanksgiving Day itself, unites all Americans regardless of political outlook, religion, or background. We should stand together in objecting to employees being forced to sacrifice their celebrations because the mammoth corporate chains have decided to open. And I say “forced” to work because let’s be honest: How many employees can tell their boss “no” when asked to work on Thanksgiving, when doing so could mean losing their job or hurting their career advancement?

Of course, we won’t see the CEOs of these companies working at the stores on Thanksgiving. Instead, we have corporate executives like Walmart vice president Duncan Mac Naughton trying to spin the story. “Walmart associates are really excited to work” on Thanksgiving because it’s a “pretty high energy day,” he says. I wonder how many Walmart execs will be at the store sharing in that “high energy” on Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving has a special place in our nation’s history. It’s truly the quintessential American holiday. Our first Congress even passed a resolution in 1789 urging President Washington to proclaim a national day of thanks. (You have to wonder if our current dysfunctional Congress could even agree on a Thanksgiving resolution.) Washington obliged by issuing a proclamation that Thursday, November 26, 1789, would be a day of public thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving now means many things to people. It’s a day when family members unite to celebrate their blessings. True, it may be painful to spend a full day with family, but that is why turkey is the perfect food—it makes us sleepy, allowing us to nap for a bit and avoid painful conversations with certain annoying relatives.

And for many, like me, Thanksgiving is also about remembering family members who are no longer with us. In my case, it’s my late father, who always prepared the Thanksgiving meal. We always spend at least a few moments during Thanksgiving reminiscing about him. I’m sure others also use this day as a bittersweet memorial to departed relatives.

But opening retail chains is a stake through the heart of the holiday. And just to be clear: If you shop at a retail chain on Thanksgiving Day, you’re contributing to people not being with their families. Think of that as you reach for that “greatly reduced” holiday sweater at Kmart.

It’s my hope that my fellow Americans will avoid patronizing these stores on Thursday so they don’t open again next Thanksgiving. It’s not like Thanksgiving is the only day retailers are offering deals or can rake in the profits. Plus, if you really feel compelled to shop Thursday, you can do so online.

We also should praise and patronize those retails chains that put family over profits and close on Thanksgiving, including Costco, Home Depot, Nordstrom, American Girl, and more. As Costco vice president Paul Latham says: “Our employees work especially hard during the holiday season, and we simply believe that they deserve the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families.”

This Thursday, help keep the “thanks in Thanksgiving” by not shopping at a retail store. You will be playing a part in helping thousands of other Americans spend next Thanksgiving with their families.