When I was a kid, every American who didn’t have a critical job (such as providing medical care or policing) got a holiday on Thanksgiving day, which falls on the fourth Thursday of November. It was truly a hallowed day, one to be spent eating good food with your loved ones. No stores were open then, and there was no shopping. The day after Thanksgiving, it was common for festive families to get out of the house and do some Christmas shopping together. This was often a lot of fun.
Post-Thanksgiving shopping was also fun for retailers, and after awhile, they started to open their stores earlier, to give people more shopping time. Eventually, stores were opening at 6am, 5am, 4am. Now, they open at midnight. If their employees are lucky…
More and more stores are now starting to open on Thanksgiving day itself, which deprives their employees of any semblance of a holiday, along with the shoppers. It’s just not Thanksgiving if you clean your plate and head to the mall, leaving behind everyone else who might have been hoping for a little conversation or a board game or two.
Retailers call the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday,” because it’s when they make their profit during the year. It can have other connotations, too, as people get so desperate for deals that they camp out overnight in front of the store and then fight one another inside once the doors open. You can quite literally get a black eye on Black Friday. Or worse.
There is nothing wrong with shopping for what you need or buying holiday gifts. But the spectacle of Black Friday just keeps getting bigger, and while people decry such blatant consumerism, it continues. People willingly give up their comfort and family time in search of the cheapest TV set, and every year people get hurt. Sometimes, someone dies. What is up with that?
I think we should start calling Black Friday “Empty Friday,” because that’s how people really feel. When we crave the “next big thing” or “the next big deal,” it’s like an addiction. Until we heal it, everyone has an addiction like this. The addiction says, “I cannot feel loved/whole/fulfilled/complete without X.” And it doesn’t really matter what X is, but it is always external from ourselves; it’s never within us, so we always need more, more, and more of it. In particular, many Americans use buying stuff as a means of fulfillment. Of course we do. We’re told it’s our patriotic duty to buy, buy, buy, and then maybe the big corporations will give us a job or two. Shopping gives us a rush. Yay! I have the New Thing! And after a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks, the emptiness gnaws at us again. We need a new thing. We need a new rush. Our landfills are full of “old rushes.”
Ironically, Thanksgiving is the holiday about gratitude for what you already have—not for what you might find on sale the next day. We are forgetting how to appreciate what is while we search continuously for what we might have.
Thanksgiving 2011 has come and gone. For some people out there, this was their last Thanksgiving, although they don’t know it. Between now and next November, some people will leave their earthly vehicle and return to Spirit. They may be old. They may be young. Their deaths may be lingering, or fast and unexpected. How did they spend their last Thanksgiving? Were they enjoying the company of their friends and family? Were they out shopping? Did they camp out overnight at Best Buy? How tragic, if so.
Empty Friday doesn’t have to be empty. A Fulfilled and Grateful Thursday can come before. A more reasoned Joyful Friday could follow. Instead of grabbing what we can, maybe we should remember how to be of service to one another. Sometimes, all that takes is playing a board game or two.
I’ll leave you with the perspective of the Reverend Billy Talen and his Stop Shopping Choir. What would Jesus buy?