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In the Thanksgiving War, America might finally win

So Walmart, Sears, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Michael’s all announced plans to open with specials at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving night in 2019. By then, Target, Best Buy, Macy’s, and Kohl’s would already be open. since one hour. Upping the ante, Old Navy and GameStop opened at 3 p.m., and JC Penney unlocked the door at 2 p.m. A few big chains have given up on the holidays altogether: Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s were open at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. KMart opened at 6 a.m., before the sun even rose on major local US holidays.

This year, by contrast, most, but not all, of the major chains will remain closed for business – foregoing the ability for customers to make late local news by storming the aisles, but allowing their employees through actually the holidays observing a public holiday.

For the past decade, Americans have been the subject of a made-for-cable debate, emanating largely from Washington, about a supposed Christmas war. According to the dubious talking head reasoning behind the reports of this jihad, people and companies who exchanged the ecumenical greeting “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas” posed a serious threat to the holy Christian holiday.

For a while, it looked like Thanksgiving was going to be a new front in the conflict. After getting long culture war mileage out of fury over holiday nomenclature, President Donald Trump at the end of his term briefly sounded the alarm about a related threat: a Thanksgiving War, apparently waged by progressive revelers who were embittered about colonial history. Some of them didn’t even think it should be called Thanksgiving anymore! But, he assured fans, no one was going to change the name of the holiday on his watch.

All the while, however, a veritable war on Thanksgiving was well underway. And instead of being a question of vocabulary, it was about work, money and dignity for millions of people.

If you haven’t noticed this war, chances are you have a desk job. In white-collar America, holidays still mean something. But for retail workers, the pre-Covid Black Friday expansion was just one more step in a decades-long desacralization of the entire holiday calendar. Occasions like Presidents Day and Memorial Day bit the dust decades ago. The 4th of July has ceased to be a real day off more recently. It was inevitable that the trade would eventually come for Thanksgiving.

It’s not at all clear, by the way, that the threat is gone for good. Many of the reasons department stores remain closed this Thanksgiving involve things that most people hope will not be a permanent feature of American life: inflation, labor shortages, the lingering fear that a jam-packed pre-Christmas sale turns into a super-spreading event. Will the Thanksgiving shopping hours return once these challenges are completed in the rearview mirror? (Other changes are more permanent, if not necessarily 100% positive: Shopping continued to move online, for example, changing the game for physical stores. And many Black Friday deals started in early November from This year. .)

But this is not a lamentation over the Christmas elevator music from Halloween or the supposedly vulgar materialism of the holiday season or even the citizens who like to shop as a spectacle. I think it would be better for us as a country if we didn’t spend so much time judging each other’s tastes and hobbies. It’s more about power. If we’re going to have national holidays, they should be holidays for everyone – not just for people lucky enough to work somewhere that doesn’t stay open on Thanksgiving Day or doesn’t give you a choice between 8 hours pay and a chance to “enjoy annual traditions that have blossomed into sacred rituals with our children and grandchildren,” as President Joe Biden said in his 2021 Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Of course, there are plenty of jobs that screw up the holidays: if you work in a hospital, hotel, pharmacy, or fire station (or, for that matter, a newsroom), you’ve probably had to work a Thanksgiving or three. Still, if you’re coming home after dinner this year, look where the lights are on. Does this McDonald’s really need to be open? How about this Sears?

Yes, it’s a free country, and the customer gets what he wants. But sometimes that’s not enough. In a time when we use the holidays as an excuse to wage a culture war, can we at least agree that they’re important enough to shut down a fast food joint?

Thanksgiving is our greatest holiday precisely because it’s egalitarian and ecumenical and endlessly customizable. You don’t have to buy gifts; it’s hard to make it fancy; it can be profane or sacred. At its core, it’s about recognizing that we’re all in this together, and we’ve all had a little help along the way. What cable news culture warriors don’t understand (and campus types who claim the party is horrible because its origin story hides genocide) is that the meaning of the day is far more important than staying loyal or furiously destroying the fairy tale.

One way to honor that meaning: make sure as many people as possible take their day off.

So this year, while you’re dodging your politically toxic uncle and fiddling around with your green beans, say a little thank you for the fact that you won’t be able to go to the mall after you’re done eating. And keep an eye out for next year and the year after. The TV versions of the Christmas and Thanksgiving Wars are rubbish, but the punchline one is all too real. And maybe the right side is winning.


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