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The Thanksgiving Wars

You’ve heard of the Christmas wars, but what about the Thanksgiving wars? No, I’m not referring to ideological battles over the true meaning of Thanksgiving (I’ll get to that in a minute). I’m referring to actual violence that takes place on Thanksgiving weekend.

Check out these headlines from this past weekend:

“Shopping scuffles begin”

“Man threatens to stab people in line at K-MART”

“LAPD plans crackdown on the unruly”

A couple of years ago, a Buffalo man was injured when he was trampled by a mob trying to get inside a Target store before it opened its doors at 4 A.M. on Black Friday. In 2010, a Wal-Mart employee in New York was trampled to death by a crowd rushing into her store at 5 A.M. This year in Indianapolis, police were called in to break up scuffles at two Kmart stores.

I recently saw a someecard that showed an illustration of a woman with a full shopping cart beside the words: “Black Friday: Because only in America, people trample others for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.”

But the big news this year was that many retail stores and restaurants were open on Thanksgiving Day. With all the focus on shopping, the true meaning of Thanksgiving has been lost.

Indeed, one of the effects of America’s always-growing consumer culture is that we miss opportunities to celebrate things beyond ourselves—in this case, we miss the chance to reflect on all that we as Americans have to be thankful for.

Of course, most of the shoppers I saw on news broadcasts at early morning store openings did not appear angry or on the verge of violence. Rather, they looked overjoyed. As Toys R Us CEO Jerry Storch told a reporter about the crowd in New York’s Times Square, which started gathering four hours before the store’s opening on Black Friday, “Our customers love the earlier opening. The atmosphere is celebratory and the crowds have been happy and excited to start their holiday shopping.”

That’s what Thanksgiving has become for millions of Americans: a day to be thankful for the beginning of the holiday shopping season.

But the start of that season has edged earlier and earlier every year. This year, Wal-Mart, Sears, Target and Toys R Us all opened on Thanksgiving, earlier than last year. According to a poll conducted by the International Council of shopping Centers, nearly 20 percent of shoppers planned to take advantage of Thanksgiving shopping hours.

Overall, more than 147 million people planned to shop over the weekend, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s nearly half of the country. Stores beefed up security this year. Employees at Best Buy even participated in training drills to prepare for the large crowds.

Less than a month ago, just 57 percent of eligible voters stood in line to vote for their preferred candidates in one of the most important elections in decades. Voter turnout was lower than it was in 2008 and 2004, according to the Center for the Study of the American Electorate.

One wonders how many of the tens of millions of eligible voters who didn’t cast a ballot waited hours in line on Thanksgiving or Black Friday to get the best deal they could.

Early last week, news broadcasts showed people camping out in front of retail stores days before the Thanksgiving sales started. Watching these scenes, I couldn’t help but think of the opportunity cost of missing days of work in order to save perhaps a few hundred dollars on items they probably don’t need.

But of course the real point of getting in early is not the financial savings. It’s, as one boy put it to a radio reporter last week, to know that “I have it and you don’t.”

The real opportunity cost of all the time spent shopping and bargain hunting is in missing the real meaning of Thanksgiving.

When President George Washington issued his famous Thanksgiving Proclamation, he designated Thursday, Nov. 26, 1789 as “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” He implored Americans to give their “sincere and humble thanks” to God for “his kind care and protection of the people of this Country.”

Washington believed that a day of public thanksgiving would allow Americans to offer their gratitude to God for the “opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.”

For the fourth year in a row, President Obama failed to mention God in his Thanksgiving Day message. This after Obama spent his first term downplaying the Judeo-Christian roots of America’s founding.

Meanwhile, Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, made news for writing an article calling Thanksgiving a “white-Supremacist holiday.” In a piece titled “No thanks for Thanksgiving,” Jensen asks, “How does a country deal with the fact that some of its most revered historical figures had certain moral values and political views virtually identical to Nazis?” How does one respond?

Perhaps by thanking God that we live in a country where people are not only free to write such drivel but also free to ignore it

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