Wait, that’s illegal?

Three states in New England hold onto blue laws barring stores from opening their doors on holidays

More stories from Julia Van Allen

Seeking Solace
May 13, 2019

Ah, Thanksgiving — which I like to call “Turkey Day.” We meet again.

I love Thanksgiving, and this isn’t just because this particular holiday mandates eating a ridiculous amount of potatoes and complaining about feeling like a stuffed turkey 20 minutes after eating one.

For this special holiday version of “Wait, that’s illegal?” I wanted to dig deep into Thanksgiving-specific laws. I didn’t know until doing some research that there were such laws. Let’s begin.

Blue Laws: What are they and why do they apply to Thanksgiving? I’m glad you asked. Blue Laws were instituted in the early stages of this country when religious holidays were a big deal. A lot of states had these laws put in place to encourage people to go to church on Sunday mornings. While many states have laws about not purchasing alcohol on Sundays — I’m looking at you, Minnesota prior to 2017 — others have fairly recent laws about keeping “days of rest” available to all.

Where does Thanksgiving come in? In Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, it is illegal to start Black Friday shopping on Thanksgiving Day. I’ll be focusing specifically on a Blue Law from the great state of Rhode Island, which bans the practice of retailers opening their doors on Thanksgiving night to get a headstart on Black Friday sales.

These three New England states are some of the last ones to hold onto Blue Laws like these ones.

This Rhode Island law keeps holidays as a day of rest. Translation: the fanatical shopping of Black Friday doesn’t start early. No stores in Rhode Island would even be open for pre-Black Friday festivities.

According to an article written in the Huffington Post, “So-called blue laws — first drafted in the colonial era to push people to go to church on Sunday and holidays — bar retailers in Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island from opening on Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

These laws are kept in place in this modern, more secular age partially for those who work these retail jobs. It isn’t ideal to have to spend a holiday working if that person wants to spend it with their family instead. These laws ban companies from opening on Thanksgiving, so then their employees can spend that time with their families if they so desire.

I love holidays. I love going home and seeing my family and eating crazy amounts of food. I think it’s a good idea that these three New England states are keeping businesses doors closed on holidays.

However, the ban on stores opening their doors on Thanksgiving hasn’t stopped people from lining up outside in previous years. And many Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine residents simply cross the border into neighboring states without the same blue laws to partake in the early shopping festivities.

While I can see why people would be antsy or irritated about Black Friday deals having to wait until Black Friday, I think that pushing off that consumer feeding frenzy to spend time with those who matter the most is more important than any deal.

Van Allen can be reached at [email protected].