Finding a Christian perspective on Black Friday, holiday sales, and yet another commercialized Christmas
Brace yourselves for Black Friday! In a sign that the holiday season is finally and officially upon us, Wal-Mart, Target, and other major retailers have just released ads for their Black Friday sales—roadmaps for the annual shopping frenzy following Thanksgiving.
I have no problem with anyone finding a good holiday sale at these or other stores, of course. But I can’t escape a twinge of despair at the thought of this annual celebration of consumerism. It’s partly guilt at the thought of so much money that will be spent on luxury goods and gadgets; it’s partly frustration that Black Friday is ironically linked to a holiday in which Americans (in theory) express their gratitude for and contentment with God’s blessings. And after the horror at a Long Island Wal-Mart last year, the thought of people stampeding through store aisles makes me feel somewhat ill.
What’s a Christian to make of all this? We can decry the excesses of consumer culture and the commercialization of the holidays… but that message, which I’ve heard repeated every year since I first watched the Peanuts Christmas special, feels these days less like a bold spiritual statement and more like a dreary and obligatory annual Culture War complaint. We can abstain from Black Friday and the frenzied consumerism it represents, or at least moderate our participation. But what’s something positive we can do as we head into another holiday season marked by sales and rebates rather than spiritual reflection?
This year, I’m going to use the beginning of the holiday sale season as a time to plan out how I and my family are going to live this Christmas. I’m not going to stop with the usual questions about Christmas shopping lists; this year I want to actively chart what we want to accomplish and think about during Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas. I’m going to ask the questions that usually get put off until the last minute, when holiday stress and expenses are high:
What will my prayer and devotional life be like over the holidays? Is there a particular book, devotional, or study I want to work through? Are there any habits or behaviors God is calling me to give up? What holiday programs in my community do I want to get involved with? Who do I want to spend extra time with this holiday season? What charities and organizations do we want to support this holiday season? Who in my community is going to need some extra help (financially, emotionally, or something else) this Christmas? How will I help them?
What other questions should I be asking as the holiday season begins? Will you join me this winter in setting the holiday catalogues aside for a while, and making sure to ask these questions before the holiday madness distracts us?