Monday, November 26, 2012

How Black Friday Consumes Us

"A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society…built on sand."          --Dorothy L. Sayers

Here’s what I did last Thursday night and Friday, Thanksgiving Day and the day after our national day of thanks. Watched my New England Patriots completely demolish the New York Jets while I sprawled out on the living room floor in hopes of aiding my overconsumption of turkey and all the fixings. Next morning I bid a bittersweet goodbye to old friends who had been my houseguests for three wonderful days.  I created a behemoth Turkey sandwich for lunch, with stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce spilling out the sides.  I read.  I napped. Then that night I planned for dinner and the latest Steven Spielberg blockbuster movie, “Lincoln”.

Here’s what I did not do. I did not leave my house at 10 pm Thursday night to get in line with hundreds of other at the local Best Buy so I could secure a midnight “door buster” deal on a flat screen TV. I didn’t rush out from the Thanksgiving dinner and drive north to New Hampshire where that state’s Wal-Marts opened at 8 pm Thursday night, the earliest ever.  I didn’t go any where near a mall, not even close, knowing that the traffic jams would be of apocalyptic proportions.

I didn’t shop. I didn’t buy. I didn’t consume. Call me odd. Call me weird.  Call me out for my reluctance to join the race from turkey consumption to consumer goods consumption to mark the start of the holiday buying season.  I just couldn’t do it.  Couldn’t get on the frantic shopping train that each year seems to start up earlier and earlier and then won’t stop until the last minute on December 24th.    

But 137 million of my fellow Americans did so on Black Friday (as it has come to be known), and Black Thursday night (as it is coming to be known). On average they spent $423 apiece.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ll be doing my own Christmas shopping in the weeks ahead and will probably approach that spending figure. I’ll do my part for consumption, helping companies get in the “black” (profitable) for 2012.

I’m not anti buying.  Consumer spending does after all constitute seventy percent of the overall economy.  I mostly enjoy making my Christmas gift list and figuring out the exact thing I plan to give to each of my loved ones.

I guess what really shocks me each year on these “Black” shopping days is the frantic, desperate and even bleak spirit which marks the communal ritual of descending upon our cathedrals of commerce en masse. Folks standing out in a midnight misty rain, in a quarter mile long line outside a big box retailer, all to snag a 32 inch TV for $199.  Shoppers pushing crammed carts, heavy laden with brightly colored boxes and baubles at two in the morning, looks of complete exhaustion on their unsmiling faces. Store workers forced to curtail or even skip their family holiday plans because they just have to serve this sacred shopping “tradition”. And far too many of us spending money on things we really do not need, with money we really do not really have, all to celebrate, theoretically, a holiday that was once a holy day, December 25th.  That’s why I find the yearly consumption fever so hard to fathom.

Remember? All this gift buying and gift giving, at least for Christians, is supposed to be about honoring God’s gift to the world: a baby, born to unmarried and poor parents, a child come to bring peace on earth and goodwill to all peoples. Regardless of what faith tradition we may claim, if any, it is hard to argue against the true gifts we all hope to find come these December days.  Peace. Joy. Love. Light in the darkness. Generosity. Family. Those are the real presents that I want this year and every year.  How about you?

So here are some alternative gifts I pray we might find under the tree in just 27 days: meaning beyond consumption, giving beyond self, generosity beyond commerce, community beyond isolation and love beyond belief.

May God grant us all truly happy holidays.



  1. John, i celebrated Black Friday by staying home with my kids, 2 of whom were home from college, and watching TV, cooking, and listening to all 3 of them horse around. Best sound in the world. Didn't have any desire to head out to anywhere. Will spend the next few weeks visiting small local shops and enjoying the season, not the spending. Hope it snows and that there are some dark, cold, starry nights that make me stop, take a deep breath, and then turn to see the candles lighting the windows of my house and head inside where it's warm. We are so lucky.

  2. Amy--Amen! Thanks for your thoughtful comment.