Thanksgiving at the Museum?

In its Weekend section, the Washington Post has published a list of holiday-themed activities to do every day from November 27 (the day before Thanksgiving) to December 26 (the day after Christmas). These activities include several museums and similar sites: the Post would send readers to the United States Botanic Garden on November 28, Brookside Gardens on November 29, the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree lighting on December 3, Sixth and I Historic Synagogue on December 4, and Heurich House Museum on December 7.

Model of Smithsonian Castle at United States Botanic Garden

Should museums like the United States Botanic Garden and the Smithsonian Castle be open on Thanksgiving?

The USBG offering that the Washington Post recommends on Thursday, November 28 (Thanksgiving) is the opening of Season’s Greenings, the garden’s annual plant-based winter holiday wonderland. Having been several times in past years, I can attest to its loveliness. Although a great many places decorate with sparkling lights and miniature train displays, USBG does so in a way that is unique and relevant to its content area. The tiny fairy lands and models of DC iconic buildings have all been made of plant materials year after year, the displays feature poinsettias and evergreens, and visitors learn about the many plants that play a role in December holiday traditions. This year, there will be a World’s Fair theme, and like previous years, there will be concerts of Christmas and Hanukkah music some evenings throughout the season.

Museums vary: some are open on Thanksgiving, some are not. The USBG is open every day of the year. The Smithsonians are open every day but Christmas, the National Gallery of Art every day but Christmas and New Year’s Day, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum every day but Yom Kippur and Christmas. The Newseum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

At my various museum jobs, I have worked on New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, and various other holidays, though never Thanksgiving or Christmas. In deciding whether to open on holidays, museums are tasked with balancing the desires of out-of-town relatives looking for something fun to do with their families on vacation, and the desires of their own employees to be with their own families.

This year, one of my family members will have to rush from Thanksgiving dinner to his retail job. The encroachment of Black Friday shopping onto Thanksgiving Day itself has been a topic in the news and online petitions, while the fact that other non-critical industries like museums, movie theaters, and restaurants are often open receives less attention.

What do you think? Should museums be open on Thanksgiving?


About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
This entry was posted in Articles and Books, Capitol Visitor Center, Lists of Museums, Museums and Holidays, Newseum and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Thanksgiving at the Museum?

  1. When I was hired at NMAH, they told me I’d have to work “some weekends and holidays.” This ended up including Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day…and I’m sure if I had stayed on, would have included Thanksgiving. Only us as floor staff had to come in; those above us took all those holidays off, which really just helped add a feeling of inequity to the whole mess. Aside from not having time to spend with family, transit was a MAJOR hassle (MARC does not run weekends/holidays, so I’d either have to drive in, or, since my car was wrecked most of that summer (in an accident on my way driving into work) take Amtrak), not to mention the insanity of the foot traffic in the museum itself. I still tell people that I lived through Independence Day on a Mall museum, so I can handle anything…

    I’m not actively opposed to the museums being open on major holidays, but maybe only if there were a way for staff to voluntarily come in?

    • Laura DiSciullo says:

      Thank you for your comments. How well do you think having staff voluntarily come in would have worked? I think that’s a vague idea that most can agree on in theory, but how well does it work in practice?

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