Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Fridays, Black and Otherwise

with 4 comments

Yesterday was yesterday, meaning Thanksgiving, meaning a day when I’d had way too much to eat for the day before 3 o’clock in the afternoon. 

I even took a nap, which is virtually unheard of.  If I’m not majorly ill–and I’m not, at the moment–naps tend to be an overall negative for me.  I have my body rigorously trained into a work-and-sleep schedule that works very well for me, and naps tend just to mess that up so that I have several days of virtually no sleep until the schedule settles back again.

This time, I seem to have gotten away with it, so I’m going to keep my fingers crossed.  But I only allowed myself an hour, and when I woke up and came downstairs again, I was still fairly out of it.  It made looking pitiful and getting Gregor to put away the leftovers a lot more effective.

While I was sitting around looking pitiful enough to get all my work done without expending any personal effort, I came across a blog post by somebody whose name I no longer remember, concerning people who were required to work during the Thanksgiving holiday.

It was a very good blog post and I wish I did remember who wrote it, because I would like to post it here.  It was good because it was not the same old screed about Evil Greedy Corporations who were trying to turn us in to materialistic zombies with no ties to family and friends.

The message instead was that we should not be crying anathema against the shoppers, or the stores and their owners, or the people who work on holidays.  We don’t know the circumstances.  Some of the workers might be grateful for the extra hours and therefore the extra pay.  Some shoppers might desperately need the deals on offer to give their families a happy Christmas, or might have jobs that leave them no other time to shop.

One of the people posting comments even pointed out that some stores make pretty much all their profit from the Christmas season, and if they don’t take advantage of the whole Black Friday weekend thing, they could easily end the year in the red.

That is, after all, why it’s called Black Friday.

Most of the comments, though, were the usually–the Greedy Evil Corporations out to destroy all our lives, the hoodwinked public so thoroughly brainwashed by advertising that they weren’t making real choices at all, the right wing onslaught demanding unfettered free market capitalism that’s destroying the country, etc, etc. etc.

I will was tired, because if I wasn’t, I’d have commented myself–to point out that I’d checked all the major news outlets, and the only one that was headlining the “stores open on Thanksgiving” story and deploring the fact in news piece and editorial was…Fox.

Small episodes of irony aside, though, I’m not really sure how I feel about stores opening on Thanksgiving.

I asked my students about that last week and got a mixed bag.  Of the students who were being required to work on Thanksgiving Day, two thirds of them were indignant. The other third wanted the money and were happy to get it.

The more I think about this, though, the more complicated it gets. 

There is, for instance, the fact that some people are required to work on Thanksgiving (and other holidays) because the world needs to keep turning.

There are the obvious–nurses, doctors, fire and police personnel, prison personnel, and all of that–but people at places like communications companies and cable stations and newspapers.  We expect out phones to be working on holidays and our local news to be broadcasting news and weather and our cable stations to have football games running all through the day.

My point here, I think, is that in spite of all the sturm and drang about this horrible new thing of having to work on the holidays–sturm and drang for both left and right–it has always been the case that a large number of people worked on the holidays, whatever the holidays are.

And that not all these people were essential safety and emergency personnel.

And that none of us really wants them to stop.  We want football games on Thanksgiving day and Christmas day and all the rest of it.

Maybe we shouldn’t.  But we do.

But the other thing that struck me–and didn’t come up in the comments–has to do with what happens to people who are not celebrating the holiday for one reason or the other.

This might be because they have some principled reason for not celebrating–a lot of atheists/humanists make a point of not celebrating Christmas–or it may be because they are far from home or without family and have no one to celebrate with.

When the subject has been Christmas instead of Thanksgiving, I have had complaints from atheist and Humanist friends about the fact that “everything” is closed and that they are forced into observing the holiday whether they want to or not.

As a matter of fact, of course, “everything” is not closed.  A Humanist group here in Connecticut meets every Christmas day to have lunch at a Chinese restaurant.  My guess is that the Chinese people running the restaurant don’t celebrate Christmas either.

Then there are the people who are celebrating the holiday, but end up with a less than life threatening but still significant emergency.

There was, for instance, the Thanksgiving–13 months after Bill died–when I accidentally put the turkey down the garbage disposal.

Not the whole turkey, just one leg.  Because I was trying to wash it.

You don’t want to ask.

Our little local chain IGA grocery opens on Thanksgiving from 7 to noon, and thank God, or we would have had nothing to eat but vegetables and pumpkin pie.

It seems to me, in other words, that there are lots of reasons why stores might want to stay open on holidays and why people might want to patronize them and why workers might want to work in them.

At the same time, I am still a little uncomfortable with the whole thing, and more uncomfortable with “you have to work on THANKSGIVING whether you want to or not” than I would be with Christmas.

I think I responded to reports of workers in stores being forced to work on Thanksgiving with the not-completely-conscious assumption that it was just one more example of the de-historicization (is that a word?) of everything.

That what I was seeing was just more evidence that we no long understand anything about who we are, and where we came from, and what got us here–that we don’t understand, any more, why Thanksgiving is important.

I think the de-historicization is real enough, but I also think it was odd that I didn’t start worrying about the working on American holidays thing until we got to Thanksgiving store openings.

Thanksgiving is important, but on the subject of national identity, the 4th of July is far more important, and almost everybody is open for that.

I still wish I could think of something we could do that would mark out national-identity holidays in particular (and possibly all national holidays) as exceptions to the general rule of everything.

The closest I could come to that was the sort of old-time labor law that required that workers who were forced to take such duty should be paid extra for the inconvience. 

A friend of mine from college, who was from an observant Jewish family and positively wanted to work on Christmas day–used to make triple time and a half as a fill-in operator for the old AT&T monopoly.

In the meantime, I find myself enormously grateful that nothing in the work I do requires me to go out into the world on Thanksgiving week-end. 

I went out on Black Friday once before I knew what it was, and I’ll never do it again.

Before you could talk me into that again, I’d have to be looking for life-saving medicines for a child. I’m not sure I’d do it for life saving medicines for myself.

Happy Thanksgiving week end.

Stay out of the stores if you can.  It’s crazy out there.


Written by janeh

November 29th, 2013 at 11:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Fridays, Black and Otherwise'

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  1. I think if the vast majority of Americans felt that a particular holiday should be about friends and family, and instead of writing angry complaints before and after shopping, stayed home with friends and families, they’d amazed at how fast the evil materialistic corporations stopped paying their employees to man the check-out lanes in empty stores. Whether they’re Wal-Mart of the local drug ring, corporations sell what people will buy, and stay open when people want to shop.

    That said, some jobs really can’t recognize holidays. Fire, police and medical of course, power systems and communications. My home town used to announce which pharmacy would be open on Easter, because there had to be one. I spent a five year stretch in an office manned 24/7 by one NCO and one officer. It was our job to watch all the news and decide whether it was time to start calling the Army staff in. We were often told the hours were good, and they often were. But no one ever came in Christmas Eve or New Year’s Day to tell us that.

    And of course the more diverse the society, the easier it is to find someone willing to work Eid or Yom Kippur–and the harder it is to make public provision for them. People who foster diversity tend to create homogeneity, then complain about it.

    As for what should be national holidays and get what public support there is, I’m not sure. Labor Day, Independence Day and Memorial Day are pretty much lost causes, Columbus Day and MLK Day are hopelessly politicized, and no one even knows when Presidents Day is. You could make a case for Thanksgiving, but if an atheist is inclined to protest over Christmas–well, come November, to Whom is he or she giving thanks?

    I think, a few deep seculars to the contrary, we might as well plump for Christmas. As a holiday it’s no more driven by belief than Halloween. If all the believing Christians took the year off and failed to attend the Midnight Mass, would it even slow down the sale of imitation pine trees and egg nog?

    My Germanic ancestors were burning logs on the longest night of the year to make light and drive back the darkness before there was an Incarnation to celebrate, and those with roots in the classical world were feasting and drinking and appointing a lord of misrule at about the same time. Saturnalia has come again, but changing the name back to that won’t solve the seculars’ problem either.

    Enjoy the season. I’ll be out scrounging for “religious themed” Christmas cards. They’re remarkably hard to find.


    29 Nov 13 at 4:07 pm

  2. I think Australia’s equivalent of Black Friday would be Boxing Day (26 Dec). Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day are all public holidays. Many small businesses and even factories close from Christmas to after New Years.

    The big department stores and some shopping malls are allowed to open on Boxing Day and its the traditional start of the post Christmas sales. I stay home!


    29 Nov 13 at 8:42 pm

  3. Here in the National Capital, Canberra, (think DC in miniature) different laws apply to NSW where John lives even though the Australian Capital Territory is surrounded by NSW.

    Here, unlike NSW and some other states, there are few laws dictating who can stay open when, and the shopping malls and all the businesses within open pretty much every day of the year except Christmas Day, although plenty of businesses elsewhere trade even then. The unions make a song and dance about it as if it’s just legalised slavery, but as has been said, many people have no particular reason not to work that day and love the extra money. In the military, I worked when I was told to work with no additional recompense or leave.


    29 Nov 13 at 9:16 pm

  4. They don’t call it Boxing Day here, but the day after Christmas is pretty intense in the States too. If I’m working, fine, but I won’t go near a retail outlet.

    Mique, my record was the time I had Charge of Quarters on Friday the 23rd of December (weekday roster) and Saturday the 24th (weekend roster)–both long shifts since the unit was on half-days. But, since I’d been up all night, I was allowed the rest of Christmas Day off. Nothing like the rosters ganging up on you.


    29 Nov 13 at 9:46 pm

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