In the “true spirit” of the holidays, many of America’s fine retail outlets are not allowing trivial things like family spending time at home around a holiday feast to stand in the way of commerce! This is a great opportunity to get a head start on that all-important holiday shopping ahead of those “Black Friday” crowds!

Yes, “great” retail stores such  J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Toys R Us, Target, Best Buy, Sears and Wal-Mart are all going to have their doors wide open on Thanksgiving Day for your shopping convenience.

Wait…what’s that you say? What about those low-paid retail workers and their families? Don’t they deserve to spend that holiday with their loved ones? Heck, no! What are you, some kind of anti-capitalist subversive? Aren’t you listening to the wisdom of your right-wing brother-in-law or your grandfather whose family suffered so much under that socialist FDR as a child? If we don’t get out there and shop, shop, shop, if we aren’t out there buying STUFF for Christmas (you don’t have a problem with “Christmas,” do you?), why – it will have a terrible effect on the country! Don’t you all remember our great former President George W. Bush after 9/11, telling us all to get out there and shop? It’s the patriotic thing to do! By golly, we’re not gonna have a bunch of godless atheists and Islamo-fascists dictate our way of life! Get out there tomorrow! Show your thanks for all the stuff in your life and buy even more stuff!

All kidding aside (surely you didn’t think we were serious?), it’s a sad commentary on our current values when retail stores refuse to acknowledge the fundamentally sacred nature of family and friends on holidays and instead, focus on the “bottom line” by encouraging more mindless consumerism. It is tragic the way that holidays throughout the year are nothing more than marketing opportunities and ways to encourage consumerism.

Those of a certain age may remember a time when holiday merchandise and displays weren’t put out in stores until after Thanksgiving. Today, some stores are putting out their holiday merchandise in late August – even before Labor Day. Even Labor Day itself is often no more than an excuse to have “sales” while exploiting labor itself on the very day it is supposed to be honored. Retail stores are now open on every major holiday except Christmas. Well, as the quintessential capitalist Ebenezer Scrooge pointed out, “Christmas is a poor excuse every 25th of December to pick a man’s pockets.” Expect that state of affairs to change in coming years as increasing numbers of people reject materialism and retailers get increasingly desperate to maximize their profits even more (hey, what better day to do one’s Christmas shopping than on Christmas Day itself?)

Even small, locally-owned shops at the local mall won’t be able to stay closed on the holidays. Those small businesses are under increasing pressure to remain open on Thanksgiving under the terms of their leases. According to industry executives, corporations that own shopping malls take their cues from major retailers like Sears and Penney – and are requiring mall tenants to maintain business hours over the holiday (oh, don’t worry – some won’t be opening until mid-afternoon or evening, so everyone will have a chance to shovel a few bites into their mouths before going out to serve the interests of commerce). If those business owners fail to comply with their landlord’s demands, they can face fines and other penalties. Anjee Solanki of global real estate company Collier International, speaking to the  Wall Street Journal, tells it like it is: “It is imperative for retailers and restaurants to be open [on Thanksgiving]…This is when they can capture as much foot [traffic] as possible and drive future business with specials for the following month. Every tenant must adhere to the hours for uniformity.”

That sounds like more corporate control over people’s lives.

It is a bitter irony that a society that claims to embrace “family values” is so willing to compromise and even sacrifice those values for the sake of revenue – or that families would be willing to give up precious time together in order to engage in consumption.

Fortunately, there is something we can do about it. Mall owners may force their small-business tenants to remain open on Thanksgiving, and huge retail corporations may be requiring their already underpaid employees to work on that day – but they cannot force us to patronize them. Many groups are calling for boycotts of retailers who open their doors on the holiday. We hope you will consider doing the same.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.