In the opinion-writing business, there's nothing as satisfying as a good rant at a scurrilous outrage -- and this Thanksgiving, there's a target more tempting than Grandma's chestnut stuffing: Holiday shopping creep, that crass commercial trend of starting the Christmas rush earlier and earlier. This year, stores aren't just opening at midnight, they're turning Black Friday into Black Thursday by throwing open their doors on Thanksgiving Day itself, wrenching employees and shoppers from the warmth of family and friends to cash in.
O the ignominy! Is nothing sacred?
OK, we got that out of our editorial system. But really, Walmart, Target and Macy's aren't anti-holiday. Nobody's forcing anyone to shop. And if stores are deserted, you can bet Black Thursday will go the way of real candles on Christmas trees.
But if some of us get tired of watching NFL games we don't care about, or getting stuck with cleanup for the umpteenth year, or listening to Aunt Mildred and Uncle Rufus snipe at each other over the lumpy gravy -- is it so awful to want to slip down to the mall for a bit and see what's on sale? Is it any different from the common tradition of all going out to the movies after the feast?
As we ponder these weighty thoughts, speaking of all that food, add this to your cornucopia: It's not even a new debate.
In the summer of 1939, Adolf Hitler was ripping into Eastern Europe and Josef Stalin was fighting off Japan's surprise attack on Russia. But what was the front-page news on Aug. 15 in the San Jose Mercury Herald and newspapers across the nation? President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's proposal to move up Thanksgiving Day one week, from the last Thursday in November to the third, to start the Christmas holiday shopping season a week earlier.
Businesses hoped FDR's plan would goose the economy with a 10 percent jump in sales. But since he was a Democrat -- the ultimate Democrat, one could argue -- Republicans were horrified by this latest "new deal." They dubbed it "Franksgiving."
And you thought giving silly names to controversies started with Watergate.
Alf Landon, who had run against FDR in 1936, said, "If the change has any merit at all, more time should have been taken working it out ... instead of springing it on an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler." As one 21st century columnist recently noted, even pre-World War II, people were prone to seize upon Hitler for their over-the-top analogies.
So what happened? The 25 states with Republican governors refused to cooperate and held Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 30. Twenty-three states with Democratic governors, including California, opted for Nov. 23. (Texas, being Texas, decided to celebrate on both days. Big hats, big stomachs, apparently.)
The upshot: Franksgiving was FDR's Obamacare -- without the bad website.
Somehow the nation, if not its turkeys, survived. And in 1941 Republicans and Democrats in Congress got their act together -- perhaps having figured out there was a real Hitler to worry about -- and formally installed the fourth Thursday of November as the official day of Thanksgiving.
We would like to see this as evidence that today's Democrats and Republicans (and socialists and tea partyers) eventually will sing Kumbaya on the wrenching issues that divide this nation. But in fact the lesson is:
It's up to us.
The deciding factor was that shoppers refused to change their habits. Sales did not notably increase in the states celebrating Thanksgiving early. Folks liked things the way they were.
In 2013, early shopping will either succeed and give the economy a bump, or it will fail because people decided to stay home and enjoy time with their families.
Let's see. Family, or a better economy. Family, or a better economy.
We're taking an opinion holiday. You decide.