First, they ruined Christmas.

They turned one of the most sacred days of the year into one long shopping trip, replacing meaning with materialism.

Now, they're ruining Thanksgiving.

You probably saw the same headlines I did this week.

"Thanksgiving fades out" read The Associated Press story that detailed how many are forsaking a traditional dinner for an earlier start on Black Friday.

For the last few years, some merchants started Black Friday sales at midnight of Thanksgiving Day. Stores opened in the wee hours of the morning, enticing shoppers with specials they called "door busters."

Some merchants tried to resist, saying they wanted their employees to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving with their families.

But in the tug of war between profit and family values, profit is winning. More than a dozen major retailers have announced they will stay open on Thanksgiving Day.

They are sure people will forfeit a special time with family because the proof is in past profits – people stand in line for the chance to grab early bargains.

The earlier the stores open, the earlier shoppers camp outside, wanting to be first in line to snag bargains.

It's a strategy that has worked for at least a decade. "If it opens, they will come" seems to be the motto. As long as the bargains are there, shoppers will take the bait, retailers have proven.

The AP predicts people will gladly turn Thanksgiving Day into a shopping tradition, just as they have on what we call Black Friday.

I think that's sad.

I've always said Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because all it asks of us is a grateful heart. There are no presents to exchange, no pressure to please people with anything other than a nicely browned turkey.

I soured on Christmas a long time ago when all the meaning was stripped away. But I still clung to the specialness of Thanksgiving.

Calling Thanksgiving "my holiday," I invited every family member to my house for a day of feasting on food and family festivities.

Little by little, my family passed away and the crowd around my dining room table got smaller and smaller. Soon, long distances kept my daughters away, too.

When I moved to Florida, I had no family nearby. But I created my own version of family, inviting friends to my house.

A few years ago friends declared no one should have to work that hard to prepare dinner for everyone. We would all go out for Thanksgiving dinner, they decided.

It was a day I will never forget.

We sat around forlornly as we were served pressed turkey, instant mashed potatoes and canned corn. The room was as dark as my mood.

"Never again!" I announced. "I'm cooking."

Yes, it's a lot of work to prepare a Thanksgiving feast. But there's something about it that gives me pleasure.

I always loved the meaning of Thanksgiving, too. Taking time to reflect on one's blessings and giving thanks for the richness of life should rule the day.

Actually, I believe that gratefulness should be expressed more than once a year. It should be an everyday thing, with special emphasis on Thanksgiving itself.

There were a few Thanksgivings when fate threw a nasty hand at me and the day could have been bleak.

The Thanksgiving my late husband was in bad shape in the hospital ranks as one of those dismal days. Instead of staying home to cook for our daughters, we all stayed at the hospital with Andy.

Our holiday meal was a takeout turkey from the supermarket. But even then, we knew we had a lot to be thankful for as we stayed together as a family.

If The Associated Press is right – and unfortunately I think it is – staying together as a family on Thanksgiving will become a thing of the past.

Not for me.

As long as I have breath in my body, I want a traditional Thanksgiving, not another shopping trip.

What is there to gain by rushing to a big box store for a "door buster?" OK, we can save a few bucks. But it's not as if bargains won't be there after Thanksgiving. Stores have to keep enticing us with reasons to buy.

This week our church had a visiting missionary. He started his talk by drawing out the way he started his day – having a full glass of water with his pills then having another glass because it tasted good.

He had just returned from serving in South Africa and the Philippines. He told us the women in South Africa walk two miles for water then carry the heavy jars home for another two miles.

In the Philippines, people are so desperate for water that they are boiling then drinking water from a dirty stream, he said. And that was before the country was hit by typhoon Haiyan. Now, it's even worse, he says.

The priest contrasted that with the easy way he drew water that day – by going to the refrigerator and pushing a button in the door for cold water. "I could get ice the same way," he marveled.

We take water for granted.

We take a lot for granted.

We tend to think more about what we don't have instead of what we do have.

Shouldn't there be a day when we slow down the pace of life to simply say thank you for it all?