Today is Black Friday, the unofficial holiday immediately following Thanksgiving. Today, businesses open very early, offering reduced prices on all manner of consumer items. Customers are encouraged to flood the aisles in search of a good deal on all kinds of things – from DVDs to appliances – but, above all, electronics.
Black Friday apparently got its start back in the late Sixties, but it came into increasing prominance in the last decade, as the economy deflated and retailers became ever more desperate to sell their wares. In the past, stores would open around 6:00am; in recent years, however, this has not been considered early enough. The retail industry has been involved in an arms race, vying to see who could open the earliest. This year, a number of big box stores opened at midnight. Walmart, not to be beaten, decided to start their sale prices at 10:00pm on Thanksgiving Day.
This new move to open at midnight or earlier on the evening of Thanksgiving has elicited a response from some quarters. Some folks, perceiving that Thanksgiving is under attack by out-of-control consumerism, have started campaigns to resist this trend. Many are aware of the burden that this pseudo-holiday places on low-level workers: If stores open their doors at midnight, workers have to show up much earlier than that, depriving them of sleep, and the chance to enjoy the evening of Thanksgiving with their families. Black Friday, and its recent escalation, is squeezing out one of the few annual sabbaths that the working class could once count on.
Yet, even if Black Friday were not so terrible for working families, and even if it did not threaten to steamroll Thanksgiving under the weight of Christmas-season merchandising, I would still be opposed to it. Black Friday is the Anti-Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving holiday is traditionally a time to gather with family and friends and practice gratitude for our blessings. It is a time to cultivate awareness of all the ways in which God provides for us, and to pay special attention to providing hospitality to others who are hurting. Black Friday, on the other hand, is a celebration of greed, unbridled consumerism and disregard for others.
Thanksgiving is, at its best, a fleeting incarnation of the peaceable kingdom, where we can all come together in peace and mutual respect. Black Friday, on the other hand, is an intensification of the hyper-capitalist, corporate order that already dominates most of our lives. Rather than gratitude, it promotes greed; instead of cooperation, competition. While Thanksgiving fosters brotherhood and peace, Black Friday is a celebration of self-centeredness and bickering.
If you need evidence of this, examine the fruits of the Black Friday rush for the latest consumer items. There was gunfire in a shopping mall. And at a Los Angeles Wal-Mart, the “competitive shopping strategy” of one woman involved the pepper-spraying fellow customers. Amazingly – though perhaps not surprising – the Wal-Mart remained open through the entire incident, and the woman was allowed to buy her merchandise and leave the store. Nothing, not even outright violence, was allowed to stop the flow of consumption.
How can we resist this violent culture of materialism and selfishness? This is a hard question to answer. The problem goes far beyond individual choices, involving as it does a manufactured culture of scarcity and greed. There are forces at work that are bigger than any one of us.
But I must start with myself. I must change my own life before asking others to join with me to seek broader solutions. As I hope and pray for more systemic change, how can I be changed? To begin with – and, I confess, it is a modest beginning – I commit myself to resisting Black Friday. I will not participate in this anti-holiday. Today, I will buy nothing.