Five Reasons Not to Participate in Black Friday

Five Reasons Not to Participate in Black Friday November 21, 2012

Those of us living in the United States have surely seen the ads this week and earlier, calling us to rise from our food-induced comas and bring the retailers “into the black” on that holiest of American shopping days, now popularly known as “Black Friday.”  These calls and what they represent (often in a quasi-religious way) should give Christians pause for a number of reasons.  Here are a few of the reasons I’ve been pondering for staying home from the stores this Friday.

Liturgical: There is some confusion created by the fact that we Christians share one of our holiest days with America’s alternate religion of Secular Consumerism.  For the latter, the day after Thanksgiving marks the official beginning of the “Holiday Season.”  The culture warriors can protest the term until they’re blue in the face, but I’m all for not confusing this with the Feast of Our Lord’s Nativity.  (Try and commercialize that – or on second thought, don’t.)  Let’s not forget that in the Christian year, the Christmas season begins with Christmas.  As of this week, we haven’t even gotten to Advent yet.  Taking a season to wait in wonder for the mystery of the Incarnation may be the best possible antidote to the allure of flashing lights and jingle bells and marketing gimmicks enticing us to overconsume.

Christological: Speaking of the Incarnation, let us above all not forget the radical humility of the Word becoming flesh.  It is true that this humility implies the redeemability of our full humanity, including our culture.  It is also true that we who seek to follow the incarnate Word are likewise called to be incarnational, to believe in the redemption of the world rather than thinking ourselves superior to it.  Yet these truths, rich and profound as they are, should not be interpreted as a divine carte blanche to baptize every cultural practice and attitude indiscriminately (and judging from Our Lord’s reaction on this one occasion, I’d say it’s a safe bet he takes issue with the exploitation of worship for profit).  To be sure, the Incarnation is an affirmation of the goodness of humanity, but it is also a call and a challenge to a better way.  The true test, as Aaron Weldon has put it so well, is “that any engagement with ‘the world’ should be measured against this standard: does this action perform the truth?”  As we celebrate the unique kingship of Christ this Sunday, and as we expectantly ponder his descent among us this Advent, in everything we do let us ask ourselves: does this help us to proclaim, or keep us from proclaiming, the radical humility of the Incarnation?

Theological: Long before sending his son among us, God was speaking to his people, warning against idols that fail to satisfy human needs – and today’s brand-name pantheon often comes dangerously close to this, especially when they compel us to an all but compulsory visit to their temple on their own Day of Obligation.  This is not to say that we must never shop, but simply that we must never allow it pride of place over things that matter more.  We need periodic rest from the frenzy of commerce, and God knows this.  That’s why he gave the gift of Sabbath – a gift enshrined in the ancient covenant from the creator who knows what’s best for us.

Spiritual: Because God knows what’s best for us, if we all paid more attention to his gifts, we’d be a lot healthier – physically, psychologically, and spiritually.  The pressures of consumerism are taxing; they weary the body and soul.  At some point, of course, we will have to purchase necessities for ourselves and gifts for others.  Better at least to avoid doing so in a high-pressure atmosphere that will ultimately be detrimental to our own well-being, and consequently to the well-being of those we interact with.

Social: Our consumer activity always has an impact beyond ourselves.  This is not only about the working conditions of producers overseas (although it is partly about that, which is why I recommend favoring fair trade retailers for gift purchases).  It is also about the working conditions of the people we meet face-to-face on the other side of the cash register.  I was reminded of this in a recent conversation in which someone I know was lamenting the fact that her sister, who works in the food industry, has been required to work Thanksgiving day for the past several years, largely due to popular demand for “Early Black Friday Deals” (which really are advertising ploys to induce increased spending, and not savings except in the most artificial sense).  Yes, the many people required to work this Thursday and Friday are in one sense fortunate to be employed, but this provides all the more temptation – and certainly no justification – for their employers to take excessive advantage of their need to remain employed, even to ignore their humanity and view them as mere tools for profit (Pope Leo XIII would have a few things to say about this).  They too deserve a time of rest and recreation with their families and friends – which many will continue to be denied as long as we continue to make it profitable.

This video from the Advent Conspiracy (remember Advent?) ties these things together nicely:


The Gospel calls us to walk a fine balance in our relationship with the world, remaining deeply involved while also remaining set apart in such a way that people take notice.  This is ultimately not a sectarian message but an evangelizing one, not a false ideal of purity but a prophetic and relational witness.  A holier-than-thou “you’re all shallow idiots for buying into the consumer mentality” kind of message is not likely to win many hearts and minds.  Still, we ought to have something to say to tired and frazzled compatriots who have been led to seek meaning in things that can’t fulfill their deepest human needs and longings.  Perhaps we might say with St. Paul (concluding 1 Corinthians 12), “But let me show you a more excellent way” – first of all by living the way in our own lives.  We might also plead with the prophet Isaiah (55:2):

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good….

A plaintive critique, prophetic yet compassionate, accompanied by an invitation to what does satisfy.  An invitation to the thirsty and weary – as St. Paul also says at the end of his first letter to Timothy, “so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”  What a New Evangelization that could be!

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  • brettsalkeld


    There was a meme going around on Facebook about the irony of buying so much stuff the very day after supposedly having taken a moment to be grateful for what you already have.

  • Ronald King

    Being born in 1947 has been a blessing in the sense that I have experienced the existential crises of being human longer than I expected. We did not have stores open for business on Sunday. I came from coal mining families and our needs and desires were adjusted to what we could afford to pay for in cash and/or lay away for future purposes. Everything was slower. We had a lot of face to face contact and sometimes fist to face. What was apparent then and talked about among the adults was the great divide between the haves and the have-nots. There was a void which existed internally with the adults I looked up to which gave a sense of not being good enough especially compared to the middle and upper classes. Over the years I also found this to be true with those in the upper classes. This leads me to my point about one realm of existence on the Wheel of Life as depicted in Buddhism. It is the realm of the Hungry Ghost. The explanation of this realm is interesting to me. Being ghost-like in appearance it represents the past, in particular, the unmet need of being validated as having worth at a critical developmental point in time which cannot be achieved in the same way at a future point in time. This need then will influence a compulsive drive to consume whatever it is which is believed to fill the emptiness of this sense of lacking. The ghost also has a long thin neck which means that it is difficult to take in which is truly nurturing in the present. It’s bloated stomach represents that what is taken in which is nourishing is not digested and therefore the person is left with the sense of being malnourished.
    Our consumerism is built on taking advantage of this condition of emptiness because we do not know what we are doing and will do or buy anything to distract ourselves from going into the void. R.D. Laing said that people are afraid of 3 things: death, other people and what is in one’s own mind.
    I hope you have a wonderful Thanks giving.

  • Thanks, Julia. I appreciate these reflections. As you said, it shouldn’t be a judgmental call “Don’t shop!” But instead something to ponder as a witness that challenges the “normal”.

    • Julia Smucker

      That was meant to be a reminder to myself as much as anything, as I have strong opinions on this and (in my better moments) want to express them in a way that points to a better way instead of simply alienating.

      Props to you and Heather. 🙂

  • Mark Gordon

    Thanks for this, Julia. My wife and I have never shopped on the day after Thanksgiving for a couple of the reasons you give here. (In fact, we don’t do our shopping or decoration until the week before Christmas Day.) My principal objection, in addition to everything else you list here, has to do with really entering into Advent, my favorite season in the Church year. This rush to Christmas, driven by commercialism and cheap entertainments, completely guts and bypasses what should be a beautiful four-week preparation of our hearts and minds for the arrival of our salvation in Bethlehem. It is vulgarity visible, in my view, and deeply unchristian.

  • Julia Smucker

    My suspicions of the quasi-religious nature of this sort of thing have been validated here. It’s all about ritual – and a lot of psychological manipulation in the advertising.

  • Julia Smucker

    One more link – not for the faint of heart.

    The shadow side of the shopping craze is dark indeed. Lord have mercy! We need those Advent prayers more than ever.

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  • Jordan

    Thank you Julia for your great reflections. I particularly agree with you that not allowing employees a day of rest is in some sense not only an exploitation of labor but also dehumanizing.

    re: Ronald King [November 21, 2012 9:22 am]: There was a void which existed internally with the adults I looked up to which gave a sense of not being good enough especially compared to the middle and upper classes. Over the years I also found this to be true with those in the upper classes.

    I will tell you from experience Ronald that the upper classes feel material alienation to a very great degree, perhaps because there is an emphasis on “keeping up appearances” or “keeping up with the Joneses”. I believe that the secret to emotional and psychological growth is not to repress material desire, but rather channel this desire for cooperative ends rather than for blatant commercialism and profit. I do almost all my shopping save foodstuffs and gasoline at the Goodwill. When I was out of a job, the Goodwill helped me find one and has undoubtedly helped many others as well. I know that when I spend my dollars with non-profit thrifts, my money not only funds rehabilitation programs but also provides sheltered workplaces for persons in rehabilitation. I believe that barter and cooperative small-scale economics, where possible, build Christ’s reign where big-box retailers cannot.

    Best blessings for Thanksgiving all!

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