SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 19, 2012

Leave government out of shopping on Thanksgiving


The Salem News

---- — For a country that claims to embrace “family values,” we have a crazy way of showing it.

Case in point: The clamor to start Black Friday shopping — traditionally the day after Thanksgiving — earlier every year, until it’s no longer Black Friday but Black Thursday. Thanksgiving? Forget it. There’s a sale on big-screen TVs, and that seems to be much more important to many of us.

That said, railing against this — or legislating against this — is like trying to hold back the tide. If shoppers want to shop, they’ll do it, even if they have to drive across the state border to find a mall that opens on Thanksgiving. And if shoppers are buying, then retailers are going to make darned sure they’re open and selling.

Here in Massachusetts, there’s much hand-wringing this year because stores aren’t allowed to open on Thanksgiving. It’s a vestige of the Colonial blue laws, which regulated morality in what was then a theocracy. Nowadays, we don’t allow the government to tell us when to pray or observe a Sabbath, but some of these laws have persisted for other reasons.

A big one is the plight of retail workers, who can’t observe holidays if they’re required to man a cash register. While everyone understands that essential workers, like nurses and police officers, have to be on duty, accommodating eager — or overeager — shoppers fills no such societal need. And while you can feel pretty sure that company executives are home enjoying turkey dinner, their lower-level workers will be denied the same privilege.

Another reason is the desire — one we understand completely — to preserve a vestige of sanity and calm in what can become an all-too-hectic season. It’s the reason we prohibited Sunday openings for so long, a yearning for a day of peace and reflection where we can relax with family or friends or follow our own spiritual paths, far from the siren call of bargain basements and one-day-only sales.

None of that, however, is a good reason to legislate store closings. In most of the United States, stores open and close as they will on Thanksgiving, just as they do on Christmas Eve. It’s not government’s role to decree when people must give thanks or attend church or even just take a break. The best we can do is mandate that if employees are required to work, they get extra compensation.

Of course, there’s more we can do as individuals if we really believe in family values: We can stay home. If you don’t want Thanksgiving to turn into a Christmas shopping frenzy, then don’t shop. Save it for the next day.

But let’s leave government out of it.