I’m a capitalist. I believe in free markets and the power of market forces to correct and balance the economy (and we’ve just summed up everything I know about economics, despite college courses in the micro and macro aspects of the topic!). I don’t think we should excoriate the rich or idealize the poor (all of them being human beings like ourselves with their unique challenges and opportunities) and I think that if you earn your money honestly and ethically and give the appropriate amount of charity, then how you spend it is your business.

That said, I was a little shocked by the emails that flooded my inbox this Thanksgiving. From early in the morning, I was being encouraged to shop, shop, shop at the sale, sale, SALE!!! I remember a time – not too long ago – when you couldn’t shop on Thanksgiving. If you dared go to a website, you were greeted with a banner saying Happy Thanksgiving and no actual access to the site. We were forced to stop.

But not anymore. Those sales begin early in the morning online and off (I heard on the radio that people began lining up on Monday for Thursday evening sales at a local Best Buy) thus forcing many employees to work on days that used to be a vacation. Since the big department stores are opening in the malls on Thursday night instead of Friday morning, all small stores are forced by mall owners to open as well. Soon it will be all day and the holiday will disappear.

Let me clarify. I don’t have strong feelings about Thanksgiving. I grew up in Canada where no one ate turkey and the holiday was but a pale imitation of its American counterpart, more noted in its absence than its reality. We don’t usually celebrate the holiday (this year we got our first invitation in I’m embarrassed to say how long…) and I make a turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce for Shabbos instead.

But I can still take pleasure in the family time I see occurring around me – the kids home from college, everyone (unless they’re in retail!) off work, the eating and hanging around and general sense of connection and well-being. And it seems to me a real shame to see that lost in the name of consumption.

Like I said, I’m a capitalist. I’m not opposed to shopping (except as an actual pastime) or the owning of nice things. And, like everyone I know, I can certainly appreciate a good bargain! But at what price? Is it worth destroying everyone’s family time for a flat-screen TV? The essence of the holiday is about gratitude. And the essence of gratitude, it seems to me, is that I have everything I need right now. I am happy with my lot. To take the one day in the secular calendar devoted to gratitude and turn it into a day where there is a rush to get the bargain seems to defeat the purpose (I’m not even going to address the trampling of other human beings on the way to the latest “toy”).

It seems a real shame to take the focus away from gratitude in order to get a cheaper Wii.