Friday, November 29, 2013

My Totally Controversial Thoughts About Thanksgiving and Shopping

I have an admission to make and I've been a little hesitant to write about it even though I've been writing it out in my head for almost a month.  The thing is that I know that it's probably one of the least popular things I could possibly say at the moment based on what I've been seeing in social media since November trailed after October and we turned out attention from Halloween to Thanksgiving.

But it offers a fresh perspective from what I've seen out there so here we go.

I have seriously mixed feelings about stores staying open on Thanksgiving.

Okay, I'll put myself out there even more and say that over the past eight years, more often than not I've been down right thrilled that there are stores that stay open on holidays year round.

Now before anyone starts typing in caps in my combox about consumerism and a loss of values and how holidays used to be about things like families and how now all people care about is shopping, hear me out.  I'm not looking at this from the angle of getting up early to head out and stand in line in the freezing cold outside of some store because I want that heavily discounted big screen tv.

Paul has worked through most of the holidays since we've been married.

There weren't really appropriate pictures for this post,
so it's sprinkled with pictures from the time periods
I'm talking about.
When we first got married he worked as a manager of a group home.  He'd work three twenty four hour shifts on and then three off and then two on and then two off about an hour and a half away from where we lived.  When he brought home the first schedule I was pretty devastated because he worked every single holiday.  But don't worry he said.  That means next year I won't have to work any holidays at all.

Except that didn't happen.  The next year the schedule got switched again and suddenly he was working every holiday for a second year at a job where he got $10 a night for still having to be on duty in a house full of juvenile's who'd been ordered by the courts into the program, even though he was still very definitely working.

By the time he left, I hated that job.  It was horrible and our car got vandalized over and over again.  To be honest, it was kind of scary.  And his boss couldn't have hated Catholics any more than he did if he'd dressed in a sheet and worn a pointy white hat (that a totally different story and maybe someday I'll convince Paul to tell it or let me tell it).

Then Paul began working retail while he was getting his masters in theology.

Can I tell you how much more I liked that job?  Sure he was still working graveyard shifts a lot of the time, but I wasn't nervous that some sixteen year old gang member was going to attack him.  We were poorer, much poorer, but I also felt safer.

Paul worked every holiday shift that he could.  He'd get a generous amount of extra pay for any holiday he worked, whether it was the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving.  So he'd volunteer, along with many other workers who could see the upside of a much fatter paycheck in a season where little extras just won't stop popping up.  He was a non-union almost full time employee (whose hours would get cut for a bit whenever he got too close to being full time and getting benefits since that was how it worked), but we were thankful for a paycheck.  2008 wasn't a good time to be looking for a job and we'd learned to be thankful for what we had.

When the electricity and gas bill are about to jump up an extra hundred dollars because of the cost of heating a home, that extra money is more than welcome.  And it was only an eight hour shift.  We could still find a time in the day to celebrate.  We worked around his schedule and made the holidays special while being thankful that there was extra money to help pay to keep the house a little bit warmer.

The idea of wanting to work on the holidays wasn't new to me.  When I'd worked in a supermarket shortly before Paul and I met there was serious competition to work on holidays because of the extra pay (I can't remember if it was time and a half or double time, but it was enough that people were ready to volunteer).  I never even got to work a holiday, despite volunteering because I hadn't worked there long enough to have the seniority to get picked to work before I moved on to another job.

On Tuesday Paul asked me if I wanted him to see if he could pick up extra hours this week. He said that a lot of kids were home for the holiday and that work would be packed.  And so he went in and asked if they needed him and they said of course and he stood out in the freezing cold dealing with the people who were often belligerent and drunk for $5 an hour.  He got home at 4 am and fell asleep on the couch so that his footsteps on the creaky stairs wouldn't wake Patrick and Mae, who are only two willing to get up and celebrate a new day at 4 am.

He went upstairs in the morning and then I woke him up again around lunch time to come down and spend the rest of the day with us so he'd be able to sleep that night, grateful for a husband who's willing to stand out in the cold all night long, even if it meant working the first four hours of a snow covered Thanksgiving.

Today I went to the fabric store.  One of the ways I've made my store work these past years is by stocking up on fabric during the ridiculous Black Friday sales.  Fabrics that are 75% off and 25% off your total order coupons?  I'm willing to stand in line to cut my bottom line by more than half.  I knew that I'd be coming home to sew and sew and pray that what I'm sewing sells.

The lady cutting my fabric was furious.  I asked her if it had been busy when they opened and she ranted about having to come in early and how angry she was to be there the day after Thanksgiving and how she couldn't imagine going into stores on that day to shop.  I nodded and tried to sympathize.

But it was hard.  Because I knew that I'd be coming home and putting on three layers tonight and that I'd still be shivering.  I knew that even with the ridiculous gas prices and three layers of clothes on and the thermostat turned up as high as I dare, our house would still be cold.  I knew I'd be sewing and getting up to get a blanket and put it across my lap, praying, praying, praying that someone would like something that I post enough to choose it over the cheaper made-in-China version.  I knew I'd be thinking about that week when I spent 100 hours standing in the kitchen sewing while watching the kids through the baby gate, only to go to a craft fair and not sell a single quilt. I knew I'd be hoping that this week wouldn't be like that week (I always stress about sales during this particular weekend even though I know most people wait until Cyber Monday to do their online shopping).

And after the struggle of the last five years, after the year Sadie was born when we waited to hear back on so many applications I sometimes just wish that people would remember that for many people bringing home a paycheck, even an utterly unspectacular paycheck, is still pretty special.

I don't shop on Thanksgiving.  But I don't find myself angry that other people do and I don't feel that I'm somehow better than them because I spend my Thursday in the kitchen cooking.  Different families bond in different ways and I imagine that some groups that might have felt the strain of spending a day together watching football might enjoy being out and about together searching for deals a bit more than feeling claustrophobic in some living room somewhere.

Perhaps in some ways that's what bothers me the most.  There's a morally superior tone that seems to ring through many of the articles that I've read that makes me feel like we sometimes feel better about ourselves when we talk about those materialistic people who go shopping on these big shopping days.

But I'm pretty sure that I can find my own opportunities to be a big fat sinner while losing my temper snapping at Paul as we scramble to get everything on the table before a certain three year old captures the pumpkin pie.  I'm just not convinced that staying in and celebrating the way that I'm more inclined to celebrate is something I should be patting myself on the back over.

I feel bad for people who are forced to work on holidays and be away from their families, but I also have a special place in my heart for those families who, like us, are thankful when there are extra hours to be had.

Now I'm going to go upstairs and do the second half of my work on Black Friday.  And who knows, maybe the heat that went into writing this post will help keep me a little bit warmer for an hour or two!


  1. If there were ever a good reason to have stores open on a holiday this would be one of them. The paycheck alone for struggling families is really important. I'm not a fan of the crazies out there that will trample you just to get a bargain but I do understand why someone might want to shop and get a good price and the stores who just want to stay open for business when competing against the big giants like Wal-mart. Thank you for showing a positive side to black Friday and working on holidays.

  2. YES! I was paid 3x my hourly rate at my job in college to work on the holidays. I took it - I lived too far from my parents and was too poor to be able to go home and see them, but was one of the poor students who lived in the dorms over the holiday breaks. Those extra dollars meant that I COULD afford to fly home after the holidays, and I could bring gifts!

    I'm with you, 100%, on this one.

  3. I can see this issue from both sides. I know it stinks to have to work a holiday like Thanksgiving or Easter or even Christmas when you could be enjoying time with your family, but I also know how nice it is to work for a company that will pay you double time and a half to work on a holiday that falls on a Sunday. I grew up in a resort town where holidays like Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day are days where working is a given. Working somewhere that would pay you extra (like WaWa) for working on one of these holidays was really nice. When I was a kid my mom used to throw a fit when my brother who was a waiter would work on Thanksgiving or Christmas but honestly, you can work around a family member working if you change the time when you have your big family meal. My other brother works for a casino in AC and he works every major holiday but he still manages to join us for family dinners on these days.

    I am grateful that stores like the super market are open, even if only for a few hours on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter because we frequently have situations where we run out of something needed to complete our meal. And you know something I find funny? People will complain about stores being open and people having to work on major holidays but you'll never hear these people complain that police officers, doctors, nurses, and paramedics are working on these days. What about their families? I have friends who work in these fields where every holiday one of the parents is absent for a 12 hour shift because they both work in the same field and one of them is always working a holiday.

  4. I've had a very different experience with working holidays. I worked in hospitality for years but because I was in management I was forced to work every holiday, every year, with the sole exception of Christmas. For years. My staff would have loved to earn extra cash, but I worked (as did every manager who was salaried) 16 hour days, every holiday (over easter that was 4 days in a row), in order to minimise having to pay that. It wasn't a choice, and I didn't earn extra cash for it and whilst salaried, it was still barely above minimum wage.

    I also saw how it affected the majority of staff. The few select staff that got to work, loved it. The vast majority hated it because they saw a pay cut. Instead of working 5 shifts, they got 4. Our best weeks of the year for staff cost were consistently those that had holidays in them because of the company expectation on managers. Some holidays were "manager only" days.

    I support keeping businesses closed holidays. Whilst I can accept that for essential services, a supermarket is not essential. A bar isn't essential. Nothing is open on Christmas day here (I'm Australian), and we all manage to be able to buy things before the day so we don't need them.

    The problem is that a family needs to earn double time every few months to even have the possibility of making ends meet. Accepting that as ok, is a band aid solution. I'd rather fix the root of the problem. A much harder task, but certainly the better goal.

    My 2 cents. (And said with no caps - it's ok that we disagree, right?)

    1. It is totally okay to disagree.

      (and thank you for no cap locks, lol!)

  5. Sorry, but I've ever only worked one job that paid extra on holidays. My husband has had no job that paid "holiday pay." The year when I worked every single holiday except Christmas and every single Friday, Saturday, and Sunday was horrendous. My husband and I don't often see each other anyway because we usually have worked opposite shift. However, that year I never saw my parents, my sisters, or my niece, and it was very hard on her to never to see me.

    Also, there is no comparison between people such as police officers, nurses, etc, and stores. Stores being open on Thanksgiving and Christmas (I'll cede Easter) is not necessary whereas having a working police force is necessary. They also don't get paid $8 an hour. Yeah, working on Thanksgiving or Easter is balls of fun when you make $8 and hour and have to deal with very rude people in a rush to go spend time with their families.

    You also can't always work around one person working. My holiday shifts were almost always from about nine in the morning until whenever the store closed. My family wasn't going to do holidays at seven in the morning or eight at night just so that I could be there.

    Black Friday is one thing, and I see no problem with being open the day after Thanksgiving. However, that is completely different than being open on an actual holiday and forcing people (people at our jobs don't volunteer) to work holidays.

  6. I totally agree. I think many people who are all "don't shop/eat out/etc on holidays" have never lived outside a middle class, white-colllar job where you have a decent salary and get holidays off and have family to spend it with. Some people may really need the extra money. Some people may not have family and may WANT to work. And, a holiday is just a day....I've known lots of people who celebrated Thanksgiving or Christmas on a day other than the actual "day" due to work or other family conflicts.

  7. I'm only approaching this from one job/industry so I know this doesn't apply to everyone who has to work on Thanksgiving. But I know that when my husband's store is closed for Christmas, people don't actually lose any hours or $. They work so hard leading up to Christmas with increased business (so if there IS any over time, which is rare period, it isn't on the actual holiday), that they aren't being shorted a day by being closed. They still work 5 days that week if they are full time. And if you're my husband, salaried, probably 6 days. And since, here in NC anyway or at least at this particular multi-state grocery chain, there is no extra pay for working holidays, there is no bonus to look at it as a chance to catch up on a bill for us.

    I think I mainly get sad about him working on Thanksgiving because neither of our parents lives in our same city as us, so I envision a future of me and the kids home, waiting on him (hey like every other day of the week he's at work lol!) when I'm accustomed to Thanksgiving being such a family holiday. BUT I also know this is the life we've signed up for, at least for now, and I am incredibly thankful for his job because we'd certainly be homeless without it! But I do wish, and I think I will always wish, that they would close on Thanksgiving. A grocery chain is coming to our city in 2014 who closes on Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and I am salivating at that thought!

    I can totally see how your reasoning applies, though, in those specific circumstances. It still does gross me out when I see pictures of cars loaded down with Black Friday purchases lol. Regardless of people working, it just gives me an ick feeling!

  8. You provided a point of view I hadn't considered. I prefer to not shop on Thanksgiving (though I did visit JoAnn's on Black Friday to stock up on fabric), and have always felt sorry for employees who worked the holidays. Thanks for showing me another side.

  9. Growing up both my parents worked holidays. My mom volunteered because it meant bringing a smile to someone's face.The extra pay was always welcomed because money was always tight. My dad always had to work the holidays though he didn't work in retail. He was in the military. So we learned to celebrate any way that we could. Growing up the only holiday we celebrated on the Holiday was Christmas but I didn't always have both parents there. To those that say that Police, fire and military working the holidays is different is not always the case. Yeah they do get paid holiday pay plus their regular pay but they work anywhere from 12 hrs to even 24 hrs on those days. And their regular pay is barely more than what people make in retail.

  10. I do wonder if it wouldn’t both anyone if 1) it was always voluntary to work holidays and 2) people didn’t act like homicidal animals just to save money… you know what I mean, all the headlines about who got stabbed, shot, trampled, etc. If people were decent about it, I bet it wouldn’t be nearly as big a deal as it is.


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