It is not terribly surprising, even if it is a bit disappointing, the sort of business culture that develops around shopping. One can tell what is most important about a culture by what time and attention are devoted to. In the case of American culture, Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) and Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving) tell us a lot of unpleasant things we probably don’t want to accept.
For one, Thanksgiving is one day a year that is devoted to giving thanks. Two other days of giving thanks (Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day) are either turned into vacation extravaganzas or often not even given as days off. In the case of Thanksgiving it is one of very few days where two consecutive days are given off to workers. Of course, for that kind of break one expects there will be a reason, and the reason is that after a day is given to thanks that its followup is given to commercialism in a way that is unlike any other day of the year.
For those who are not familiar with the customs it is hard to explain how many people who think themselves rational wake up at ungodly hours of the night simply for the right to fight with hundreds (or thousands) of other people to get into a store early enough to buy something they don’t need at a cheap price. Black Friday is the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, a season that has nothing to do with Jesus Christ (and never did), but rather an ancient and enduring heathen ritual of lying and selfishness that begins with companies trying to cram much of their sales into a short period of overwork, overconsumption, and little in the way of either Christian charity or gratitude.
Nothing says gratitude like fighting off one’s neighbors and fellow shoppers for the last Pokemon game or the last box of legos “for the children.” Nothing says love like the large amounts of debt on credit cards, or the excessive lighting bills because one decides to turn the night into day to the tune of “Sarejevo 12/24 (Merry Christmas Eve)” for the youtube video. And for those who do not have loved ones or family or a limitless credit line, the incessant reminder of romance and consumption and family, and the horrible music, is enough to make anyone depressed. Unless you happen to be lucky enough (like me) to miss all of that while enjoying warm tropical weather and no Christmas tomfoolery like me.
Indeed, that is something to add to the list of what I am thankful for this year. Why is it that the gratitude of Thanksgiving doesn’t last, and becomes subsumed in a society-wide headlong consumer nightmare of endless sales and promotions and lies upon lies based on showing one’s love and concern through lies about Santa Claus, lies about money buying the love of others, and lies about how much most families care about each other as cars and expensive jewelry are wrapped up in ribbons and bows. Why do we do this to ourselves?
There are even some who would wish Black Friday to begin even earlier, so that they can make more money, and encroach even on Thanksgiving. It is hard to make a lot of money on gratitude, unless you are selling “Thank You Cards,” but it is easy to resent interruptions on one’s moneymaking and forget that commerce is but a small (and respectable) part of a godly life. For did not the businessmen of Amos’ time boast and complain (in Amos 8:5-6): “When will the New Moon be past, that we might sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may trade wheat? Making the ephah small and the shekel large, falsifying the scales by deceit, that we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals–even sell the bad wheat?” Has anything changed in the almost 2800 years since the time of Amos. Sadly, not so much, if at all. And such is the spirit of Black Friday and this season.