KMart image from blackfriday.com
KMart image from blackfriday.com

By Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and Boston City Paper, 11/2013

T’was a few days before Christmas, some years back, when a company called Blockbuster still rented what we used to call video tapes. I’d picked up a few choice movies for holiday viewing and asked what the late fee would be for returning the films after Christmas, since they’d be closed. The young teen behind the counter replied, “Oh, you can return then on Christmas, we’re open all day.”

And that was when I expressed my sincere condolences to him that he had to work at a VIDEO STORE on Christmas day. I could tell, despite his “no big deal” response, he wasn’t thrilled about, either.

Closer to the present, last week, I was checking out some groceries at Big Y and noticed the large sign: It said that the supermarket would be closed Thanksgiving Day so that the employees could spend the day with the families. I asked the cashier to please pass along my appreciation to the store manager. She smiled – she was happy to do so and very pleased that she would have the day with her family.

See, when I was a kid, with few exceptions, ALL stores were closed on Sundays. And on Memorial Day, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Labor Day, Independence Day, and so on. Not all were religious holidays, many were (and are) special days designated as special for a specific reason. But except for essential services, and restaurants and gas stations and pharmacies and some other exceptions, most everything was closed for business.

Now, before I go further, this is NOT church-chat, nor a rant about how we should bring back the blue laws and keep holy the Sabbath and all that. I like having stores open Sunday. And yes, Thanksgiving did have its origins in religion (specifically, thanking God for the bountiful harvest and safety in the new land and so on) but that seems to have been lost over the centuries, giving way toward a simpler interpretation, a day to give thanks, in whichever way you choose.

Since I was a kid, many holidays and “days off” are now an excuse for a car or appliance sale and little else. Only three days remained sacred: Easter Sunday, Christmas, and Thanksgiving. Now, many stores open on Easter.

And for the past decade or so, Thanksgiving is fading away too. The egregious “Black Friday” sales got earlier, and earlier, and earlier, until last year (2012) stores were opening at 8pm on Thanksgiving Day, and this year, it’ll be 6pm.

And I ask… When we do we rest? When do we stop to remember? When do we take a breath?

And to be clear, I am absolutely not faulting any business where it makes sense for them to be open on a holiday – restaurants are a great example; they provide a wonderful service to those who may not wish to cook and provide a festive atmosphere for people. That’s great. (There are several restaurants around here that create an awesome Thanksgiving buffet!)

Many places HAVE to be open and manned on Christmas, on Thanksgiving and other “sacred” days. I worked many Thanksgivings (and every Sunday) in my 20’s because I worked at a HOSPITAL. There ARE people who have to work no matter what day it is – doctors, emergency personnel, police, the guy who carries the nuclear codes, etc.

But a video store? Wal-Mart?

Not so much.

Thanksgiving is a bit of an oddity – an American creation that, despite its religious origins across the centuries — from the Pilgrims to President Lincoln, has changed since the 1940s when President Roosevelt signed the observance of the day into law.

For most people reading this, it is a day, simply, to slow down for one day and give thanks, spend some time with family or friends, (and, goes without saying, enjoy some football).

Thanksgiving is the very final holiday where you don’t HAVE to do anything if you don’t want. No gifts to buy, no parades (unless you’re in New York), no decorations to put up. Maybe a nice holiday dinner, maybe you’re cooking for 30 people, or maybe a day for football and friends, or maybe even a day to do nothing – but NOT a day of work. A day to be thankful for what you have, not what you need to go out and buy.

What’s at stake here as we lose Thanksgiving? Think about it. We’re 24/7/365 and the information we try to process is delivered by a high pressure firehouse called the internet, cell phones and other media. We NEVER rest. We don’t regroup. We are bombarded with STUFF to DO. We NEVER take a day off. Our vacations are ignored or meticulously planned to drain all the rest and fun out of them. We are all exhausted.

The pace of life has become, for most of us, unmanageable. We don’t stop for a moment to be thankful for what we do have, or spend time with those we care about, because we’re too busy multitasking and getting an impossible list done. We don’t have the time.

THAT is why we need Thanksgiving. A day, no matter what hand life has dealt you, to be TRY to be thankful for what you DO have. No matter what your lot, there HAS to be SOMETHING you can be grateful for. And often, that inspires you to go on, to live happier, and maybe realize how good your life is, and that you have the ability to help others less fortunate.

That sounds like a pretty good reason for a holiday!

The shopping can wait a day. The Christmas shopping insanity will be there on Black Friday.

End of speech. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

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