Friday, December 3, 2010

Black Friday

One thing that makes me very sad is the erosion of the focus of Thanksgiving. I don’t particularly mind the Macy’s Parade or the football games. Families and friends can fellowship to some degree while watching those types of things on television. But what really upsets me is the interference from Black Friday.

To be clear, I’m down with capitalism. I’ve spent most of my life working for for-profit enterprises. I appreciate the need of companies to make a profit. I don’t have a problem with Black Friday sales in a very general sense. Certainly, it is upsetting and offensive to me as a Christ follower that the religious celebration of Christmas has been perverted via retail exploitation. But I do pragmatically understand that retailers depend on the consumer indulgence between Thanksgiving and Christmas to stay in business. I don’t want anyone to lose their job. I appreciate that getting a good start to that important retail season is imperative. Therefore, I accept that retailers have to attract shoppers on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

But in recent years, retailers have been pushing up the start of that Christmas shopping season to an earlier and earlier point. Days after Halloween this year, our family was already seeing Christmas merchandise in a number of stores. We started our little backyard garden a bit late this fall and tried to buy some seeds the first week in November. Despite the fact that in our part of Arizona you can grow vegetables year round, a major national hardware store had already gotten rid of its gardening supplies to make room for a huge collection of Christmas lawn decorations.

Black Friday has also started earlier and earlier in recent years. Instead of opening their doors at a reasonable hour (like 9 or 10 a.m.) on the Friday after Thanksgiving, some retailers are now opening their doors in the wee hours of the morning, e.g., just after midnight, 4 a.m., etc. A week before Thanksgiving, the local news was running stories of how people were setting up tents outside a national electronics store (and others) to be first in line for great deals on Black Friday. And each year as Black Friday approaches, I get nervous because in recent years we hear about violence and loss of life as people fight each other for cheap merchandise or stampede when the store opens its doors.

Some retailers have apparently decided there is no need to wait until the day of Black Friday. Some have begun to open their doors for special sales on Thanksgiving Day itself. Some families now plan their holiday meal so they can down the turkey and still make it to the sales on the same day. It is very distressing. Wisely, the weekend before Thanksgiving this year, our pastor preached proactively on the topic and encouraged all of us to prepare ourselves ahead of time to avoid getting sucked up in the culture’s approach to the Christmas season.

I’m always incredulous and disheartened about the violence, the camping out in parking lots, and the rearrangement of one’s Thanksgiving schedule to accommodate shopping. It is just stuff. Stuff breaks. Stuff can be lost or stolen. Stuff cannot give you a hug or say something to make you laugh. Why do so many folks sacrifice so much for stuff? I just don’t get it. It really depresses me that our culture has become so materialistic that we’re trampling over Thanksgiving to pervert Christmas. Such attitudes are just fundamentally counter to my values as a Christian.

But to be clear, I don’t judge or condemn folks who get caught up in it. That would be counter to my Christian beliefs too. I’m not under any illusions that any of us live up to all of Jesus’s teachings. We all fall short. I know I certainly do. Instead of judging or condemning, I mourn deeply for people who get caught up in the materialism of our culture—particularly in the Christmas season. A plasma screen TV, an iPad or snazzy shoes cannot bring any of us lasting joy. Chasing after such things is a losing proposition. It is a distraction from what can bring us true happiness and peace. I really mourn for people who try to find fulfillment in things that will ultimately disappoint them. I would like all my brothers and sisters to find a more permanent source of happiness.

Matthew 6:19-21 (New King James Version)

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

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