In the wake of Hurricane Irene and the complete destruction of my new basement, I wrote a Moms Talk column about how “It’s Only Stuff.” At the end of the day, as sad and frustrating as the loss was, I couldn’t really complain about losing a few material things. Which is why I watched all the Black Friday frenzy with a big chunk of skepticism and sadness.
The day after Thanksgiving has traditionally been the kickoff to the Christmas buying season. Even the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade features Santa, which is an indication that the season has begun. The “Black” in “Black Friday” refers to the accounting term of “being in the black” or making a profit. Many stores feel that a strong Black Friday is the indication of financial success for the year.
Unfortunately, in recent years, stores have begun to offer some deep discounts and they open their stores earlier and earlier (some this year opened at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving night). The season itself keeps creeping backward. Lite FM started its “All Holiday Music” programming the weekend before Thanksgiving. What’s the rush? Why can’t we enjoy Thanksgiving and then start focusing on Christmas and Chanukah?
The promise of a cheaper television, less expensive Xbox or discounted designer boots has prompted some people to camp out for days, others to wake up in the early morning hours and sit in line, coffee in hand, waiting for the stores to open. As the crowds get larger, a mob mentality starts to form. In 2008 at a Long Island Walmart, the crowd was so crazed that they couldn’t wait for the store to open. They stormed the door, causing a stampede that killed a worker.
Other similar stories exist, with senior citizens and pregnant women being knocked to the ground and severely injured. This year a Los Angeles woman pepper sprayed her fellow Walmart shoppers to eliminate the competition for the items she wanted. All this violence--for stuff.
What are we teaching children? We know that so many of our holidays have become commercialized and our kids are inundated by ads, not only for Black Friday but for all the things we should buy for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Halloween. My boys came to me all excited, trying to persuade me to get to Best Buy on Black Friday so we could get a great deal on a television to replace the one we lost in the hurricane. I also wonder how many of these people eager for great deals are doing this to get something that perhaps they couldn’t afford for Granny or are they just getting a new laptop or hot jeans for themselves?
Which isn’t to say you can’t have a family tradition and enjoy Black Friday. I have some friends who have a lot of fun with it. Their kids think it’s exciting to get up early and go to the mall. I’m all for anything that brings people together and gives them happy memories.
I guess I just have trouble with the focus on the material acquisitions. The juxtaposition of Thanksgiving, the holiday where we get a chance to reflect on our gratitude and how lucky we are to have friends, family, a warm home, delicious food, next to the day where people are knocking over their neighbors to buy something just seems wrong to me.
One of my favorite singer/songwriters, Alice Peacock, summed it up in her song “I’ll Start With Me.”
We cloak ourselves in the great tradition
The United States of Acquisition
Every man for himself
Me and no one else
Will we ever learn there's a price to pay?
This song came out in 2002, so I doubt she was writing about Black Friday, but it really resonates. Let’s make this holiday season more about people and great memories and less about things.