With some bemusement I have been watching (and sometimes participating) in social media responses to Black Friday. For my readers outside of the US, let me explain this weird phenomenon.
We celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. The origins of the holiday trace back to the first wave of European immigrants to this country in the 1600’s. At the end of their first year, the survivors gathered after the harvest to celebrate their miraculous survival, the bounty the land, and the kindness of indigenous people who helped them figure out how to survive. At least that’s the story school kids learn. Today the holiday is more of an American pig out—a day of immense excess: excess food, excess libation, excess football watching, excess family strife, excess waste, excess stress.
Because most Americans are off work from Thursday through Sunday, the retail industry decided that the day after Thanksgiving would be the peak Christmas shopping day of the year. It is now referred to as Black Friday. And black it is. As if Thanksgiving weren’t excess enough, we move right into the next flurry of excess:
Excess spending, excess driving around, excess fighting over the last available coveted items, excess debt, excess stress, excess buying shit—whether you need it or not. In previous years, people have been killed in stampedes at the doors of big box retailers. As if Black Friday weren’t bad enough, some merchants jump the gun and begin their sales on Thanksgiving Day.
Frankly, I think Americans who participate in this madness need to have their heads examined. What is it they are really doing? Are they really providing their families with necessities? Or are they teaching their kids to want material things at any cost? Are they teaching their kids sensible money management or are they demonstrating why so few Americans can afford to retire? Are they spending quality time with family and friends? No. Even when families go to the mall in one car, they fan out in separate directions so as to most efficiently cover the entire complex.
I submit that a more sensible approach to the looming family debt load that Christmas has become, would be to purchase only what is really needed and to do so from local vendors as much as possible. I suggest that a better use of the free time provided by the Thanksgiving holiday would be to spend Friday doing something physical with your family: go for a hike, a bike ride, shovel snow for the elderly in your neighborhood, rake leaves in the neighborhood, volunteer at a soup kitchen, go skiing, sledding, or tubing as a family, spend the long weekend making gifts for each other. Make a plan with your family and friends about how to approach Christmas gift giving. Instead of buying Johnny another Xbox, how about outfitting an immigrant family with new kitchen supplies, food, or clothing? How about emulating the generosity of those poor east coast Indians who helped out the newcomers, even though those newcomers turned around and nearly decimated their hosts?
Try something new this season. Lock your credit cards in a safe deposit box and spend only the money in your wallet. If you’re hell bent on celebrating the supposed birth date of Christ, do something that would make him proud.
Oh, by the way, Happy Thanksgiving!