November 20, 2012

COMMENTARY: Thanksgiving night shopping ruining a cherished tradition

Foon Rhee

Call me old-fashioned, but the plan by major big-box retailers to open for business even earlier on Thanksgiving night just makes me sad.

It's one more blow to a cherished tradition, and without good reason. Would it hurt anyone, really, to have to wait until Black Friday to snag that big-screen TV for a low, low price? Isn't a nice family gathering worth more?

Retailers say they're only responding to consumer demand, but these same chains are creating much of that craving by besieging us with slick ads.

It's also not fair to the employees at Target, Walmart and Toys R Us, who are being forced to give up their holiday. Some are already protesting. Good for them.

Having been born in Korea and raised in England, I learned what it meant to be American in part by celebrating holiday rituals. Growing up, I looked forward to watching football and "The Sound of Music" on Thanksgiving, singing Christmas carols and gazing in wonder at Fourth of July fireworks.

Thanksgiving is the most widely celebrated -- the most American -- national holiday. It is ecumenical; its origins don't come out of organized religion. It makes us pause, if only for a moment, to be grateful for America's bounty.

Especially for immigrants, whatever the customs in our homeland, whatever our beliefs, it's something we can build on to form that more perfect union.

I don't want to sound like a grouch, and I realize that many families don't fit the idyllic Norman Rockwell portrait. Still, I'm convinced that the watering down of shared traditions like Thanksgiving is one reason why our nation seems less and less united.

Coming out of this election season, it's clear how divided, even angry, we are politically. Much has been written about how long-standing civic institutions are weakening. Our popular culture offers many more choices, but not as many shared experiences. We are treated more like consumers than citizens.

"There are millions of people who do want to shop on Thanksgiving Day," a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation told the Washington Post.

I'd be willing to bet there are many more millions like me who don't. It may be a lost cause, but I hope we hold out as long as possible.

This Thanksgiving, I plan to be at my sister's house for a family dinner -- nowhere near a mall. And when I'm giving thanks before that first bite of turkey, being able to shop that night will not be on my list.

Foon Rhee is an editor at the Sacramento Bee. This column was distributed by MCT Information Services.

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