By Odysseus Bostick
Few things are more uniquely American than Thanksgiving. The holiday is an integral part of our national mythology and a representation of our most precious ideals. In many ways, it is the story of the American Dream — that we can exist harmoniously in a land of diversity, that hard work provides us with abundance, and that we are profoundly grateful for that excess.
So as we watch big-box retailers open their doors on Thanksgiving Day, I find myself patently offended.
Thanksgiving is the one holiday that every man, woman and child can celebrate regardless of faith or politics. Historically, it is a day when we put down our work and celebrate our fortune of being born in a land of so much bounty. It is a day that returns us to our agricultural roots and asks everyone to bask in the humility of gratitude. I think that’s a good thing.
President Lincoln went so far as to pause the Civil War to break bread and express gratitude. Do we really want to toss aside the sanctity of Thanksgiving by engaging in commerce without the least bit of discussion?
If you are capable of shopping on Thanksgiving, I believe you have a moral obligation to consider your actions carefully: Going shopping on this important holiday forces the employees of big box retailers to lose their Thanksgiving.
That’s precisely the most un-American part of shopping on Thanksgiving Day — that it is yet another shift away from economic equality and towards the creation of an underclass who must now forgo the most basic American tradition of sitting down with family and friends to celebrate American abundance
Because these poorly paid employees cannot fight their employers’ decision to open on Thanksgiving Day without risk of losing their jobs, I pose this question: Does saving a few bucks matter more than children being without their mothers or fathers on Thanksgiving because mom or dad had to work to satisfy somebody’s shopping bug?
We need Thanksgiving to remind us of our ideals because we live in a time when we have to face the harsh discrepancies between our country’s founding principles and our oftentimes failed execution of them. It is sometimes hard to look optimistically at those ideals when you account for the profound degradation of upward mobility, the growing inequality of wealth, and the disappearing middle class.
From the decimation of Native Americans to slavery to gender rights to Japanese internment camps to an imperfect justice system — this list goes on — we have had an imperfect history of equality. But should we stop trying?
The underlying principles of graciousness, equality and determination that drove those beleaguered pilgrims to travel across the ocean and, at least for one day, make peace and break bread with the native inhabitants they encountered still ring true. The hope that our system is capable of doing better is the reason we celebrate Thanksgiving.
So will our desire for stuff outweigh the fact that retail employees can’t say no to working this holiday because they lack the economic means to stand up for themselves?
Let’s instead reward the shopkeeper who respects their employee’s Thanksgiving.
For my money, a better use of our shopping dollars is to participate in Small Business Saturday, a time to support local retailers who live in and support our communities.
Buying local keeps our money close to home and encourages shopping hours that are both respectful to workers and in keeping with our values.
Odysseus Bostick, a teacher, lives in Westchester.