Say it ain't so. Sears will open on Thanksgiving Day

As will Kmart. If retailers keep gnawing at this national day of togetherness and gratitude, there will be nothing left of Thanksgiving but a picked-over turkey.

Shoppers leave a Gap store in New York on Thanksgiving Day 2009. Besides being open on Thanksgiving, the giant clothing retailer was open 24 hours over the Black Friday weekend.

The news that Sears will open its stores on Thanksgiving Day is enough to turn my gravy lumpy.

It’s a first for Sears, which will stay open from 7 a.m. until noon. But the retailer won’t be alone. Kmart was open last year all day, and will swing open its doors again – even while cooks across the nation prepare their feasts and families gather to give gratitude, some in houses of worship.

We all know what’s driving this retail irreverence: Ever fiercer competition for that first Christmas-season shopper. This year, the lackluster economy has retailers nervous about their biggest selling time, and it has recession-weary shoppers on the lookout for the deal to beat all deals.

Even from a bottom-line point of view, there’s no guarantee that opening on Thanksgiving Day will make any appreciable difference in total sales for 2010. This year, post-Thanksgiving “Black Friday” bargain extravaganzas were advanced to before Halloween, spreading out the selling season. In 2008 and 2009, shoppers bought earlier, but spending was weaker.

Let’s suppose, though, that being open that day does make a commercial difference. Must America always put shopping first?

We do that on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and Presidents Day, all occasions that deserve reverence but instead have become commercialized. Is this what's to become of Thanksgiving Day, which many people describe as their favorite holiday of the year? This holiday unites all Americans, regardless of their religious beliefs. It reminds them of the country’s against-all-odds founding from 1620 on. It celebrates triumph over adversity and the comfort of family and friends.

Yes, there’s pumpkin pie, and eating too much, and naps and walks, but don’t most of us go around the table and also express gratitude? Family, friends, and counting blessings add up to a sacredness that’s worth preserving for one day out of 365. Not a half day. Not squeezing it in between shopping or working, but a full day.

Thanksgiving has evolved over time, from a "holy day" of prayer to more of a secular “holiday.” By the late 1600s, people spent less time in church on Thanksgiving and more time in fun and games with each other. A few New England states tried to enforce holiness by decreeing that people who used “any Game, Sport, Play or Recreation” on Thanksgiving pay a penalty of 10 schillings. It didn’t work.

You can’t dictate holiness but you can at least support a legal, federal holiday that goes to the nation's founding and that focuses on gratitude and togetherness. Local laws in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico will prevent Sears and other retailers from opening on Thanksgiving Day. Other states should consider such laws.

If retailers keep nibbling on Thanksgiving, there will be nothing left but the bones of this day's meaning. The country will be celebrating 50 percent off, instead of acknowledging the bounty it already has.

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