The Thanksgiving holiday is sacred time for me and I believe all of America. Gratitude and thankfulness are about both celebrating and acknowledging the blessings we enjoy as a human being, as a member of a loving family or a loving relationship, as an American, and simply for being. The decision to carve out a 24 hour period for the entire nation to acknowledge the value of Thankfulness was an act of Government in pursuit of happiness and the common good.
Over the years and now at an accelerating rate commercialism is invading and violating this sacred time, carved out for us by our government, and through time has become part of our culture. It is time now to reclaim the day and the time. The Government(s) at all appropriate levels should prohibit commercial activity during the 24 hour period designated as “Thanksgiving”, with the exception of food, medical and public safety facilities (or other appropriate essential services). Indeed, I suggest that there are other times during the year that it is equally important for the nation to take a breath – a Sabbath if you will – from the stress of the every-day hustle and bustle and to focus on matters of being and soul and healing.
The Thanksgiving of 2012 highlights this issue because of the commercial creep associated with the increasing number of merchants that have decided to launch their pre-Christmas sales on Thanksgiving evening. The result is many employees now have to leave their family table to go to work, and the entire public infrastructure that supports malls and stores must “wake-up” so to speak to the equivalent of rush-hour traffic. All of this the stores claim is in response to consumer demand. Critics of mandatory closings that I propose might also argue that if people want to go shop who is the Government to say they should not.
The simple answer is that there is sufficient evidence today to suggest that “time out” – not just from work but from the pressures of everyday life – is good for the soul and body. And a legitimate purpose of “community” (government) is to see to the health and well-being of each other in every way. The Supreme Court of the United States in 1961 in fact held that creating such “sacred time” (my word, not theirs) is in fact Constitutional, and that the Government’s role includes creating a common time off intended to improve the "health, safety, recreation, and general well-being" of citizens.
There is also an increasing body of medical knowledge that documents that the stresses of “day-to-day life” contribute to significant medical issues that in aggregate significantly decrease the health and welfare of a society. It is related in part to the levels of Cortisol in our systems that is triggered by stress and which contributes to conditions such as (to quote the Mayo Clinic):
“Heart disease - Sleep problems - Digestive problems - Depression – Obesity - Memory impairment - Worsening of skin conditions, such as eczema”
We are witnessing a cry for the relief such laws would give us this Thanksgiving holiday in the form of labor protests by Wal-Mart employees and a petition circulated by a 24 year old Target employee, Casey St. Clair that garnered over 300,000 signature in a short period of time. Many other petitions have been circulated and the Wal-Mart employee group is marching in front of the stores.
The responses to these efforts and to the idea of not opening are generally based on competitive pressure and customer demand. A law prohibiting all such opening would resolve that part of the pressure. And it might just be necessary to prohibit on-line commercial activity on those days as well, something clearly in the purview of the US Government. As to customer demand, I would argue that this is a demand developed and manufactured through intense marketing and advertising by those same commercial interests claiming they need to meet that demand. Undoubtedly we will see people line up to enter these stores at the early opening hours. The merchants will claim that is proof of the demand, Res Ipsa Loquitar. The facts speak for themselves.
That would be true if the only or primary value is the monetary expression of personal accumulation of things. It is in fact that exact same line and the stress of beating out the other, the rush to work, the standing in line that contributes to an unhealthy and unhappy culture. Moreover, the consumer who wants what is offered will still have the chance to get it, just at another time or place. In the end, the personal desires and wants can be filled, the choices can be made.
Michael J. Sandel in his new book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, talks about goods and relationships in society that are not properly measured in monetary terms. Sacred Time I suggest is one of those things that money can’t buy. It is a legitimate purpose of Government at all levels to carve out the unlimited opportunity to simple exist or “be”. This is best done in connection with giving honor and thanks. So I suggest that we actually set aside, by law, days of commercial free activity –Sacred Time – at Thanksgiving, Veterans Day, Labor Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, and Martin Luther King Day at which stores are closed (with exceptions for food, health, and public safety) and the culture we foster in our larger community is one of thanks and honor.