Shut Up and Shop This Turkey Day

Every day is “Buy Nothing Day” in North Korea—and look where that’s gotten them

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Aram Boghosian / Boston Globe / Getty Images

Angela Hui, 33, of Brockton, loaded items into her cart in Target during Black Friday at South Shore Plaza in Braintree.

If there’s one thing even more uniquely American than choking down mouthfuls of turkey no one wants, green bean casserole no one admits to preparing, and pumpkin pie that no one remembers buying on Thanksgiving, it’s going shopping all the time. For god’s sake, George W. Bush counseled a nation still reeling from the 9/11 attacks that when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. “Take your families and enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed,” he said. Forget baseball—shopping is the national pastime.

Given that, I’m genuinely amazed at the pushback against plans by Walmart, Target, and other major retailers to open their doors on a day that everyone has off but no one has anything to do. Being disgusted by the willingness of stores to open for business on, what, the 10th or 20th most solemn day of the year isn’t just incomprehensible, it’s positively anti-American.

As Calvin Coolidge put it famously to a bunch of newspaper editors back in 1925, “The chief business of the American people is business.” Just as you can’t have Thanksgiving without a meal that fully no one actually enjoys (and a guest list that always seems only slightly less arbitrary, resentful, and ill-mannered than the manimals in The Island of Dr. Moreau), you can’t have a functioning free-market economy without massive amounts of shopping. Every day is “Buy Nothing Day” in North Korea and look where that’s got them.

(MOREThis Year, Black Friday Basically Starts a Week Early—If Not Sooner)

And yet we encounter stories denouncing “the war on Thanksgiving.” Haven’t you heard, bellows Dean Obeidallah at The Daily Beast, that “thousands of [people] will be compelled to leave their Thanksgiving celebrations to go to work” because down-on-their-luck chains such as K-Mart are opening as early as 6 a.m on Thursday. “Stand up for the real meaning of Thanksgiving,” opines T.J. McCormack at Foxnews.com, and “skip the shopping on Turkey Day.” Facebook pages such as Boycott Black Thursday and Boycott Shopping on Thanksgiving Day are easier to find than the cans of jellied cranberry sauce you bought last year after worrying the supermarket would be sold out by the time you remembered to get some this year.

Enough already. The only thing worth getting bent out of shape over is that it took the nation’s retailers so long to move the nation’s biggest sales day, Black Friday, up by 24 hours and give us all one more reason not to watch the Detroit Lions get shellacked on TV. We’ve already been going out to the movies in greater and greater numbers over the years, so why not also pick up a Star Wars Trooper T at the Gap (open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at most locations, by the way)?

(MOREThe Big Lie About Shopping on Thanksgiving and Black Friday)

Those of us who are old enough to recall little-remembered and even less-loved “blue laws” can only cheer the growth in 24/7 shopping. Dating back to the colonial times and religious in origin, blue laws severely limited whether stores could open at all on certain days of the year and what sorts of goods they could offer. Growing up in 1970s New Jersey, for instance, supermarkets could sell milk, bread, cold cuts, and other “necessities” on Sundays but whole aisles were literally roped off because the Sabbath was no day for frivolous purchases (especially of the alcoholic variety). Picking up furniture or clothes would have to wait til Monday.

Blue laws have mostly faded but they linger on, especially in New England, the region that once boasted a theocratic form of government—and gave rise to Thanksgiving. In fact, Massachusetts state law still pooh-poohs shopping on Turkey Day, meaning stores there will largely be shuttered.

What’s particularly ironic is that restraint of trade back in the days of Plymouth Plantation almost killed off the Pilgrims. Under the early guidance of William Bradford, the Pilgrims practiced a form of communism, in which everyone was expected to work for the common good. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need and all that jazz. The predictable results, as Bradford notes in his classic account Of Plymouth Plantation, were chronic shortages in food, clothing, shelter. Indeed, the only thing that wasn’t scarce was bitching and moaning about how nobody was doing any work.

(MORETime to Surrender in the War on Thanksgiving)

Bradford and Plymouth’s elders switched course and liberalized economic regulation, giving each family land and the right to grow however much of whatever they wanted, which they could then keep or sell. The result? The new capitalist system “made all hands very industrious,” famines became a thing of the past, and people were generally happier (“gave farr better contente”).

Today’s puritanical, anti-commerce prudes—whether in the Massachusetts statehouse or the newsrooms of the nation’s elite journalistic outposts—would do well to reinvent the lessons of Gov. Bradford for the 21st century: Get to bed early on Wednesday, pick up a pre-cooked bird and as many sides as you can manage at a Boston Market, chow down in the car while driving, and roll into the Walmart parking lot by 9 a.m.

That is, if you want to do Thanksgiving right.

33 comments
MichaelBrailsford
MichaelBrailsford

I am a conservative free market capitalist.  I do not feel government should prevent any company from doing business on any given day, however I find it fairly pathetic that people's materialism has exploded to such a degree that they can't hang it up for one day.  I for one would rather enjoy the day in the company of my loved ones rather than jostling for position with a bunch of Walmartians.  

 It is too bad you have had such bad meals on Thanksgiving.  Mine have always been fantastic.  Also the Lions did the shellacking this year (unbelievably).

  In the end I exercised my rights as a consumer to not participate in ruining a holiday and I am also going to exercise that same right to not do business with companies that do.  

angelodp
angelodp

Very few critics argue that stores should not be *allowed* to open on Thanksgiving. The main gripe is that we're such an empty, crazed civilization that anyone would require yet another day to spend money they don't have on junk they don't need. The fact that T'giving is traditionally reserved for family and friends is almost immaterial. One commenter has suggested that some folks don't have family and friends to spend the day with. Fine. What's wrong with you then, that you'd rather spend that day doing the bidding of marketers by battling hordes of fellow shoppers for "deals?" C'mon.

I feel sorry if your typical Thanksgiving cuisine is so dismal. Every single one I can remember was fantastic, every one a gourmet extravaganza.


RichardABrown
RichardABrown

One assumption that dives me nuts is  everybody is spending Thanksgiving with friends or family Not everybody has a family or can spend time with them.  Other families already finish with the family dinner and want to take a beak and go out shooing rather than sitting around at home.

DavidSimonson
DavidSimonson

Apparently either you, your wife or companion, or whoever does the cooking in your home, sucks at that particular task. "Just as you can’t have Thanksgiving without a meal that fully no one actually enjoys (and a guest list that always seems only slightly less arbitrary, resentful, and ill-mannered than the manimals in The Island of Dr. Moreau), you can’t have a functioning free-market economy without massive amounts of shopping." Seems as though maybe the people you chill with are also on the sucky side. I applaud you for vigorously defending the free market. I am not interested in telling people when they can and can't shop, but your contention that the free market hinges upon massive amounts of shopping is ludicrous.

Personally, I think having a bit of extra time with family and friends is of greater benefit to me than is shopping for the latest doohicky. I'll stimulate the economy next week. I think that sums up why I feel your contention was ludicrous. I am only going to spend a set amount of money this Holiday season. It makes no difference to the economy if I spend it on Thanksgiving or in the weeks that follow.


Not to make you envious, but our Thanksgiving meal was spectacular! I wish you had shared it with us. You might change your mind about the food and the guest list.

PercyPaul
PercyPaul

What a sad commentary it is on American society that we think it a value to put profit before people and that all greed is good. Taking a day to spend time with family and reflect of how much there is to be grateful for honors those who went before. Honors those who suffered and died, sacrificed and set examples of enormous bravery, and the highest goal we can strive to attain is having more and more 'things' instead of appreciating what we have. Climbing over one another to grab some 'prize' before a neighbor is lowering the status and intellect of the American public substantially. One day of the year to reflect as a gathered community, rather than in the pursuit of more and more materialism, may not be 'as American as shopping' but it rather should be.  

DavidSchiferl
DavidSchiferl

Nick I personally won't go shopping on Thanksgiving. But why is it my responsibility to tell someone else to not go shopping that day. As a true Constitutional conservative I have to take Tommy J' s words to heart. If it doesn't pick my pocket or break my leg what business is it of mine what you do. People say the economy sucks what better way to get it going again then spending money while out shopping. Why let the President destroy the United States and what better way to prevent that from happening but to infuse the economy with true capital.

RussBelville
RussBelville

If we don't allow our Corporate People the freedom to do as they please with their Human Resources, why, the North Koreans win!  Yes, if we eliminate this one day out of 360-ish to further fill the coffers of the Shareholders with the offerings of the Consumers, it's the fast track to totalitarian socialism.

Here's where Libertarians lose me.  They're all about the "freedom" from government tyranny but more than willing to hand it over to a corporate tyranny.  In their world, a corporation has the "freedom" to ask the paycheck-to-paycheck worker to give up Thanksgiving, a request lacking the force of law that the worker has the "freedom" to accept or deny.

One of the Libertarian catch-phrases has to do with government "force at the barrel of a gun", referring to cops who can arrest you for breaking laws (unless, of course, you're a Corporate Person).  But they'll refuse to recognize that the hunger in their child's stomach is a greater force on most adults.  Those workers have no more choice to refuse to work than if you had a gun to their heads.

Gillespie writes of George W. Bush's exhortation to "go shopping" after 9/11 as if that was a good thing!  I see that moment as 90% approval ratings and national bi-partisan will to do something great squandered at the altar of capitalism.  If we continue sacrificing our holidays to consumerism, what is the point of them?  Days off for the white collar class and government only?  Hard working poor people don't get much for the holidays as it is - can't we at least give them a day off?

ajajadude
ajajadude

How about you "shut up" (what are you, 12?) and let hard working people have a day off. Its bad enough retail workers have to deal with surly, selfish customers year round, but it's even worse having to deal with people like that on a holiday meant for family time.

Its not fun working on a holiday when you'd rather be with family, I've done it for years. But, it's intolerable dealing with people with this sort of entitlement mindset you, Nick, seem to be championing. People who feel they deserve to go shopping on Thanksgiving are the people who throw fits when what they want isn't in stock or the price just isn't right.

Americans, and the American economy, survived a very long time with most businesses being closed on Thanksgiving. I think it'd be OK if they stay closed.

DavidBatlle
DavidBatlle

I'm as conservative as they come, and no, I won't be shopping this Thanksgiving.  I'll be spending that time at home with family, and hoping everybody else is given the same opportunity I was by my own employer.  I'll go further than that, I would urge everybody to BOYCOTT stores that force their employees to work on Thanksgiving.  And to reiterate, I'm as conservative as they come.

Steveng70
Steveng70

I'm not calling for stores to be boycotted but i remember them days long ago when the stores were closed on holidays, and it added something to the holiday. today, holidays are just another "business as usual" day. Nicks a miserable prick who doesn't like turkey and Thanksgiving is boring, must have been a great family to grow up in. haters gonna hate! 

licavolisr
licavolisr

If there’s one thing even more uniquely American than choking down mouthfuls of turkey no one wants, green bean casserole no one admits to preparing, and pumpkin pie that no one remembers buying . Nick, what the hell does this mean?

tscottme
tscottme

I had to work on Christmas day once. Since that day I make double sure I buy everything I need before any holiday. If you shop on holidays you are making some poor schmuck work on the holiday. Get your gasoline, milk, whatever the day before. The world won't end if you take one day off.

JerryDunleavy
JerryDunleavy

Nick, what exactly do you have against the deliciousness that is the Thanksgiving meal? Did a really mean turkey dinner give you a wedgie and shove you in a locker as a child or something?

karmashock
karmashock

I don't participate in punctuated buying sprees... and especially not on some national scheduel drummed up by ad agencies.


Nick, I... as a consumer... Will buy what I want when I want to buy it. No one tells me when to buy things or what to buy. That sir is a hallmark of my freedom.


I will buy... But I will do so as suits ME. That distinction is actually what differentiates us from the North Korea's and Cuba's of the world. They do things because they're ordered to do them or because they're afraid of government thugs beating them up for not doing it.


Me... I do what I want.

MdaVT
MdaVT

Not a chance I'll be shopping on Thanksgiving, Fool.

Deadrody
Deadrody

BS, Nick.  Just because YOU don't enjoy Thanksgiving and YOUR family is a PITA, doesn't mean that holds true for all, if even many Americans.  

The fact is that Walmart, Target, and whomever else aren't just making that decision for themselves, they're making it for all their employees too.  Yay.  I wish I could work retail and not get Thanksgiving day off.  

There is nothing in the world stopping every American from shopping their brains out on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, or any other day of the year.  So the idea that we're sacrificing people's Thanksgiving Day for the economic greater good is a complete fallacy, and I would expect better from someone associated with Reason.  

I mean, did Time Magazine force you into posting nonsense so it would pass editorial muster with their rag of a magazine ?

noredball
noredball

I agree with Nick. In my opinion, if people want to stay home on Thanksgiving Day due to family tradition/ belief/ religion, then good for them, no one is stopping them. If others want to go shop, then go for it. I see no difference in going to Gap online and Gap store on Thanksgiving Day. But the last thing I want to see if some people make their politicians outlaw retailers doing commerce on Thanksgiving Day. 

RachelMartin
RachelMartin

Well, _you_ might not enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner, or hangin' with your family and friends ... but some of us do. It doesn't seem unreasonable to me that there ought to be a few times a year when people can count on being off, and be able to gather if they want. We really don't give a crap about workers in this country - but can't we at least pretend, a couple times a year?

I'm not "anti-commerce": I just don't think commerce and profits overrule all other concerns. There'll be _more_ than enough time to buy all the crap you're after if you wait til Friday. (Oh, and your analogies to North Korea and the Pilgrims are just silly.)

RonHolmstrom
RonHolmstrom

No one wants turkey? No on likes the rest of the dinner? What are you, Nick? A vegan? I have never met anyone that says..."Oh, no. Thanksgiving dinner? Yuck!"

You must have grown up among some lousy cooks.

larrybud
larrybud

Ouch, another jab at the Deee-troit Lions!  C'mon, we actually have a better record than the Pack this year. 

Speaking of Blue Laws, Michigan finally got out of the dark ages and "allowed" alcohol to be sold before noon on Sunday.   I'm not sure what the objection was previously, except maybe the fear of people getting liquored up to survive the Sunday sermon? 

jaschmehl
jaschmehl

I have to admit that back in my retail days, I was very happy to work on a holiday. The shifts were shorter and sometimes the pay was higher and all the guilty-faced customers were always so sweet, "I'm so sorry you have to work today, but I'm glad you're open!"

noredball
noredball

@RussBelville You don't understand. Freedom goes both ways. The choice whether to work or not should be between employer and employee. If employee doesn't like, then he/she should form a union or quit. If you IMPOSE your tradition / belief / religion that businesses should close on Turkey Day, then you not only force the employer to close for a day, you also force employees that are WILLING to work to stay at home (maybe they need the hour or money). What makes you so special that you can impose you can impose your tradition / belief / religion on employer AND employee?

JamesLandis
JamesLandis

@Deadrody  Nor is there anything in the world making anyone shop their brains out on Thanksgiving Night.

ajajadude
ajajadude

@noredball except the people who work retail. They're being stopped from having that choice.

RealityIsNot0ptional
RealityIsNot0ptional

@RonHolmstrom No one in my family is impressed. We would rather all have Taco Johns. But we eat the stupid turkey anyways and pretend to be happy. Are you the one serving or being served?

ajajadude
ajajadude

@jaschmehl now they're longer and the customers seem to be going out of their way to be extra rude. 

fredtyg
fredtyg

@jaschmehl I always preferred to work holidays. Not only was it generally quieter, but I got paid overtime. I try and make a point to patronize at least one business on holidays if only to make it worth their while to be open.

dollared
dollared

@noredball @RussBelville The employee should have the choice to not work on a holiday.  Period.  Your assumption of equal power between a multibillion dollar company and a single, minimum wage working person is not only obviously incorrect, but it is also malicicious, as it is used as a tool deny choice and freedom to the employee.

noredball
noredball

@ajajadude @noredball Do you have a job? If yes, are you forced to work? On some days where you will have to miss your child's first day at school, her college graduation, favorite TV show, baseball game, etc, should I be calling your politicians to outlaw work for that day on your behalf? Oh, how about those poor gas station employees that have to work on Christmas. Should we ban gas station from doing business on Christmas?