Scott MacKay Commentary: The War Is On Thanksgiving, Not Christmas

Nov 14, 2014

Conservatives love to say that liberalism and political correctness have led to a `War on Christmas’ RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay says the war is actually against Thanksgiving.

Credit Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

The Thanksgiving turkey hasn’t been stuffed yet but the frenzy of Christmas shopping has begun with the annual blizzard of tinsel and glitz. Stroll into your local CVS and you are greeted by shelves festooned with overstuffed Santa Claus figures.

Christmas decorations deck the retail halls the day after Halloween, or even before. It’s as if Thanksgiving doesn’t exist. Christmas creep starts earlier every year. Next week, more retailers than ever are opening their seasonal  shopping doors before the Thanksgiving table has even been set, never mind cleared.

Among the chain stores feasting on their workers and customers family time are a litany of corporate suspects, including Walmart, Kohl’s, JC Penney, Sears, CVS, Target, Macy’s, Best Buy and Kmart, which is opening stores at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving.

Where are the family values conservatives and Fox News anchors to complain about this intrusion on the most family-centric of all American holidays? Norman Rockwell’s famous illustration of a family seated around the  table as grandma carries a plump turkey from the oven  is a famous symbol of Thanksgiving.

This celebration of food, family and freedom from want has a special resonance in New England, birthplace of our nation. Thanksgiving harkens back to the beginnings of the Pilgrim settlement of the Plymouth Colony, when the nation’s first Thanksgiving feast was held by that a hardy band of people who survived the treacherous voyage across an ocean and the privations that greeted them when  they landed.

Nowadays, the premature shopping start by predatory profits-over-people retailers fall  mostly on lower paid workers, many of whom make little more than minimum wage.  Once again in a society riven by inequality and the growing chasm among the haves, the have nots and the have-mores, it is the bottom rung of workers who bear the  sacrifice.

Banks, law firms and universities are all closed on Thanksgiving. So their white-collar employees can enjoy Thanksgiving in the traditional manner, with food, football and family. Not so for the retail workers who must spring to work before the mince and pumpkin pie is served.

It’s bad enough that these retail chains pay their workers so little that the rest of the taxpayers subsidize their big box profits by picking up the tab for the Medicaid and Food Stamp benefits that low-wage employees need to make ends meet.

Maybe it is time to fight back by patronizing stores that refuse to open on Thanksgiving, including Costco, Patagonia, Marshall’s, T.J. Maxx, Nordstrom, American Girl, Barnes & Noble and the Burlington Coat Factory.

Christmas is in no danger of being overlooked.  All large retailers are shuttered on Christmas, a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of the Christ child. Tinsel, decorated trees and creches are allowed on government property so long as the display mixes Christian and secular holiday symbols.

Rhode Islanders are luckier than most other Americans on Thanksgiving. Our state is one of the few that bars retailers and supermarkets from opening on Thanksgiving. Back in the 1970s, Rhode Island labor leaders successfully lobbied the General Assembly to enact this law. ``We saw the Christmas creep trend and decided let’s have a family day on Thanksgiving,’’ recalls George Nee, president of the R.I. AFL-CIO.

``It’s something we’ve never given an inch on,’’ says Nee. Maybe other states should think about following our lead.

Rhode Islanders have another opportunity to show their true spirit of Thanksgiving. That’s to blunt the shopping madness next week on Black Friday by contributing to the Buy Nothing Winter Coat Exchange. You can drop off old coats at 14 sites around the state that will be given to the poor who need them. Once again, the coat exchange will host a large site on the South Lawn of the Statehouse, in the shadow of the Providence Place Mall.

Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday at 6:35 and 8:35 on Morning Edition and at 5:50 on All Things Considered. You can also follow his political analysis and reporting at our `On Politics’ blog at RIPR.org