Thursday, November 21, 2013

Working on Thanksgiving

Family separation is one of the most difficult aspects of military life, and during the holidays this is especially true.  After spending several decades being part of a military family, I speak from personal experience. 

Being together is important at Thanksgiving, it's important at Passover, it's important on St. Patrick's Day and it's important on birthdays.  Spending holidays in the same room is never a given for soldiers and their families, so you celebrate together as hard as you can, whenever you can.  Can you imagine what it would have been like to have had my dad home for Thanksgiving - JOY!- only to spend the meal staring at empty chairs because my mom and older brother were out doing their time working for $9 an hour?  I can because I've been there-  and it sucks.  I realize that when soldiers marry police officers, firefighters, medical professionals and other essential jobs that keep us safe and don't have holidays built in, families have an additional burden of separation.  It's understandable.  But empty chairs and uneaten meals are hardly justified by a day of sales at the strip mall...aka Black Friday.*  

war on thanksgiving
"there are many like it, but this one is mine."  photo credit:  adam peck via ThinkProgress
This week I've gotten myself into a tremendous lather over the War on Thanksgiving- along with pretty much everyone else.  What is UP with Big Retail trying to cancel Thanksgiving for their workers?! 
As many military spouses work in retail, along with the highly visible Big Box efforts to recruit veterans and milspouses, I would argue that this may have a disproportionate impact on military families.  On a practical level, during deployment, many families function as de-facto single parent households, and military families are less likely to have relatives close by- which means that if mom is deployed and dad has to work at KMart, the kids don't simply celebrate with grandparents- the holiday just doesn't happen.  On the sentimental level (it is a holiday, after all) our time together is so limited. For many families, Thanksgiving is the only holiday they will spend together this year.  I could also argue that Thanksgiving's status as a uniquely American holiday contributes to its significance in military households.  In light of those factors, Big Retail's actions seem especially wrong.  Consider the financial stressors that many military families are facing- and the career limitations available for spouses, it is highly likely that thousands, if not millions, of military households will be directly affected by these greedy self-serving shenanigans.

Of course, there are counter arguments to be made about how cash-strapped military families depend on Black Friday sales for makin' spirits bright (lalala!), and that employees need the "extra" money they can earn with one more shift to work.  To the former, I'd question whether one could really "depend" on getting a flat-screen tv for $25 or whatever, and I'd also point out that retail has a knack for cutting hours elsewhere to avoid paying employees overtime.  Please tell me you've heard that before!

What do you guys think?  Are we accustomed to separation or off-calendar celebrations and thus take this in stride?  Or are we super-double irate and ready to boycott?

* Black Friday is so-called because retailers run in the financial red (at a deficit) for the whole year and then get back in the financial black (making their yearly profit margin) thanks to the bump in purchases that marks the beginning of the open Christmas season shopping.


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