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Stop the madness: Don't shop on Thanksgiving

Unemployment is high, national debt is mounting and the government appears utterly incapable of doing anything productive. The Middle East is roiled, Europe is teetering on the brink of financial collapse, and China is beefing up its military. But the real threat to America may be this: Toys "R" Us is opening at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Walmart stores will open at 10 (two hours earlier than last year), and Target, Macy's, Kohls, Best Buy and others will open at midnight. Is nothing sacred?

The concept of Black Friday is bad enough. The promise of a few, super-limited-time offers prompt people to stand in line outside of big box stores well before dawn on the day after Thanksgiving for a frenzy of consumerism, in which the quest for a deal trumps reason, need and even desire. (Did you need or want three microwaves? No, but it was a heck of a deal.) Occasionally, the tradition has even turned dangerous. In one well-publicized incident, a Long Island Walmart worker was trampled to death in a Black Friday stampede in 2008.

But at least Black Friday follows the natural order of the universe, which is that the Christmas season begins after Thanksgiving — not before, and certainly not during. Trees should not go up, tinsel should not be strung, giant inflatable lawn Santas should not balloon until at least the Friday after the fourth Thursday in November. If the Wampanoag Indians did not make this clear to the settlers at Plymouth Plantation in 1621, it is surely because they assumed that it went without saying.

But in an age of turducken, the mixing of holidays in unnatural combinations is a sad fact of life. The Christmas tree was delivered to Baltimore's City Hall on Friday — a full week before decorum should allow — and Santa is already taking orders at the Inner Harbor. And just as restless Republicans keep pushing their presidential primaries earlier and earlier (before long, we may get that on Thanksgiving, too), the nation's major retailers have entered an arms race for first-in-the-nation status that obliterates the separation of the two biggest pillars of the holiday season.

Unfortunately, the workers for those stores become collateral damage in the holiday sales war. More and more of them will be forced to drop the drumstick, change into a fresh pair of khakis and head to work. The intrusion prompted several petitions on the website to protest the holiday hours, including one started by Target employee Anthony Hardwick of Omaha, Neb., that has more than 190,000 signatures. It says, "A midnight opening robs the hourly and in-store salary workers of time off with their families on Thanksgiving Day. By opening the doors at midnight, Target is requiring team members to be in the store by 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. A full holiday with family is not just for the elite of this nation — all Americans should be able to break bread with loved ones and get a good night's rest on Thanksgiving!"

It's hard to disagree with that. At the same time, the retailers themselves are not fully to blame. These are tough times, and the competition for sales is fierce. Stores are opening earlier and earlier because consumers have so far shown a willingness to show up, stand in line and buy the merchandise. The stores may be forcing their employees to come in on Thanksgiving day, but no one is forcing Americans to shop then. If consumers don't come, the stores won't open so early next year.

America faces plenty of big problems these days, but here's one that's easy to solve. All you have to do this Thursday is to eat yourself into a stupor. Take a nap, play some cards. Maybe even talk to your relatives. When evening rolls around, if the thought of frenzied bargain hunters queuing up outside of Toys "R" Us to get $100 off a FurReal Friends Butterscotch Pony is making you antsy, turn on the Ravens game and make yourself a turkey sandwich. The tryptophan should calm you down in no time. Get a good night's sleep and shop to your heart's content on Friday. It's the American way.

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