Today is black Friday. Already there are reports of Americans behaving like animals. Somehow the promise of an extra 5% off turns people in savages. This day sickens me with its hype, materialism, and sheer gluttony. What’s worse, it follows a great American holiday based on thankfulness and sharing.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s uniquely American and celebrates our abundance and ability to share abundance. Families come together to break bread. Friends swap their best recipes. Thousands of people volunteer their goods and time to make sure those who usually go without, do not go without. It’s a grand example of how good we can be, in the face of poverty, brokenness, and even disaster.
Then at the stroke of midnight, we forget everything we celebrated the day before. People wait in the cold and rain to make sure they get the $175 HD flatscreen TV. People stampede for $50 smart phones. In total, it’s expected that $586 billion will be spent on material crap. Even though studies show that this crap doesn’t even make us happier!
When my wife and I served in Peace Corps, we celebrated Thanksgiving in Transylvania. A baker’s dozen volunteers descended into a small village with hard to find American confections like pumpkin pie, cheddar cheese, turkey with stuffing, and more. We came together for friendship, solidarity, and homesickness. We invited Romanian (and Hungarian) neighbors to share in our feast. The best part was explaining Thanksgiving.
We told them it wasn’t a religious or nationalist holiday. It was a day we set aside to give thanks for family, friends, and abundance. We celebrate with food and drink, laughter and comradery. None of us in the small house knew each other very well. But we were all far from home and thankful for what we had. Especially after two years living and working in a country that was still developing. Our Romanian and Hungarian counterparts thought this was a fascinating and wonderful idea. I agree with them.
To me, Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season. We are supposed to channel peace on Earth and goodwill to men. Rooted in Christian thought, it celebrates that the savior has been born. A savior that preached things like “do unto others as you would have done unto you” and “whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Now, I am no longer a Christian, but these are still concepts that I respect and want to perpetuate.
It disturbs me that this season is kicked off with a giant monetary sacrifice to the great god of consumerism. We sacrifice our dignity, civility, and humanity just to save a few extra dollars. Which incidentally allows us spend even more money on more stuff!
I understand how important this day is for a struggling economy. However, I do not believe we (as a nation) should be dependent on constantly escalating consumption. It’s like taking poison in hopes of curing a disease. It perpetuates our debt, increases our waste, and doesn’t benefit anybody but the 1%. Plus, it forces people to work long, odd hours, keeping them from celebrating with their families.
This holiday season, do me a favor and rethink your gifts and spending. Instead of buying the latest and greatest i-product, use that money to help relieve suffering and poverty. Save the money and invest it in a socially responsible organization or mission. My wife and I don’t buy presents anymore. Instead, we make donations to organizations in the names of friends and family. It really is a gift that keeps on giving. Don’t you think we could always use a little more peace and goodwill and less selfishness and greed? Let’s make it happen!