Thanksgiving 2011 was the most miserable Thanksgiving of my life.
All my friends had gone home, leaving me alone in our little yellow house in Cedarville. There was no chance of me going home – I was working at Wal-Mart and of all times Wal-Mart will certainly never give you time off during the holidays. So I spent Wednesday night drinking, finishing a bottle of wine and several servings of whiskey in an alarmingly short period of time. For a short couple of hours I felt good. Really good. I was singing and dancing and eventually so drunk I couldn’t even keep my balance.
And then I felt uneasy. I stumbled out onto the porch, hoping some cold air would help. It didn’t. I projectile vomited all over the evergreen bushes outside the door, then crawled inside and proceeded to spend the next hour or so with my face in the toilet. I spent Thanksgiving in bed, with a hangover, counting down the hours until I had to go to work.
Work? On Thanksgiving?
This year, tons of national chain stores are going to be open on Thanksgiving, some all day long. In fact, I saw an ad today while watching Hulu that tried to convince shoppers it was really such a wonderful convenience that stores would be open on Thanksgiving.
Why did I drink so hard the day before Thanksgiving 2011? Because I was alone. I was alone because I couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving. Home was four hours away, a drive I might have been able to justify if I’d had any more time off, but I had to be at work around 9pm on Thanksgiving. People whose families lived in the area would have had to cut their celebrations of gratitude and thankfulness short to feed the frenzied monster of corporate greed, but I got no such celebration at all.
I don’t judge people who shop on Black Friday. Everyone likes a great deal. A lot of people have to do their Christmas shopping on Black Friday or else they’ll have no Christmas at all. By pushing Black Friday into Thanksgiving, these people essentially have to forfeit one holiday in order to be able to afford another.
But it’s worse for the workers. The strategic shopper might be able to arrange his or her shopping time so that they can score the deals they need and still celebrate Thanksgiving. But the worker has no such luxury. Workers must stay for their entire shift, wrangling customers and trying to figure out which of the five barcodes on this TV is the right one to scan, when they should be at home giving thanks for pumpkin pie.
Thanksgiving is a great holiday. It’s a simple celebration of good food and loved ones, a modern day harvest festival that reminds us not to take a groaning table and a house full of people for granted. It is a day where we intentionally begin our holiday season celebration with a thankful attitude.
And yet consumerism is doing its level best to steal that moment of reflection and joy, those meditative hours before we kick into the sometimes-exhausting Christmas mode.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against shopping. Getting a good deal can be exhilarating, and I know lots of people who make a fun holiday tradition out of Black Friday. But I also think it’s important that we preserve Thanksgiving Day, a day where we’ve collectively decided to celebrate the simple necessities of life.
On a more serious note, do you ever consider how few days off service industry workers get? For some people, an important holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas might be the only day they have where their entire family or circle of loved ones is off work and can get together. And if a bunch of upper-middle-class people who would rather go shopping at 7pm than 2am are okay with stealing one of the few guaranteed days off a worker might get, that’s some privileged bullshit right there.
“But,” I can hear you say, “what about the genocide of Native Americans? Shouldn’t we just quit celebrating Thanksgiving altogether?” Don’t worry! I’ll get to that next time.
For now, I have an assignment for you: find a Black Friday protest in your area, or a store where workers are striking, and go join a protest or picket line. Don’t just abstain from the consumerism taking over the holidays, actively speak out against the commodification of celebration and the mistreatment of workers.