For many years the words “Black Friday” were just that to me—words. My family was not among those that rushed out in the wee hours of the morning to get the best holiday deals. The day after Thanksgiving was a time of relaxation and digestion of the previous day’s feast.
As an adult, I was curious what all the hype was about. So one morning about five years ago, I decided to see what the big deal about Black Friday really was. I showed up at 5 AM at Macy’s. There was a small group of people waiting for the doors to open, but really no big deal.
I looked at snowflake-shaped candlesticks and poked around before heading to a more challenging destination: the local Target store.
Target had been open since about 4 AM and was bustling with activity. I watched, a bit puzzled, as people had literal tugs-of-war over toys, board games, strings of lights and party dresses. Women held their heads, moaning that it was too early, children bawled, men guided their shopping carts in a half-dozing state.
As I watched, I saw the ingrained conditioning of the illusion of scarcity all around me. I felt the intensity of parents believing that they must act like ravenous seagulls in order to get various physical objects to prove their devotion to children and family members. I saw the overt manipulation in the dichotomy between the ridiculously low-priced ‘come on’ items and the artificially high priced items that were also ‘must haves.’
But who sets that expectation of what is a ‘must have’ and what isn’t? Isn’t it the same blank face of Big Business that created the concept of Black Friday in the first place? Once the idea simply meant that the day after Thanksgiving was the day many retailers were in the black (meaning that they had made a profit so were not in the red financially), Black Friday has now become a feeding frenzy that is no healthier than an all-you-can-eat dessert buffet. Where the lesson of the futility of Black Friday really hit home was at Fred Meyer. After observing crowd behavior at the mall and Target, I remembered that I needed paper towels. I headed to Fred Meyer and saw a huge crowd around the hosiery section. Socks were half price and our local Fred Meyer had a large selection.
A woman stood off to the side. I saw her being herded away from the socks by the crowds. One of her legs was on a wheeled apparatus due to recent knee surgery. She saw me and said, “I just need to find some knee socks so my legs won’t get cold while this heals.”
People nearby were so involved in bargain hunting that they rushed around her, preventing her from getting near the socks that she needed. I was floored. These were socks. Half priced socks. Not rare items, certainly nothing to cause stress or to push people around over.
I gradually guided the woman through the crowds to the section that held the knee socks and created a space around her so she could make her selections. She thanked me and we went our separate ways. That exchange showed me that what can easily be lost in our rush to meet expectations set by mass merchants is ourselves. Our sense of community means far more than our ability to pay into the system and give ourselves high blood pressure by competing for the most desirable items.
And who decides which items are supposedly most desirable anyway? I’ll let you think on that one.
After what I saw on that day five years ago when I braved the Black Friday crowds, part of me never wanted to be a part of the stress, competition and impatience again. But after my interaction with the woman in Fred Meyer, I realized that there might be a reason to go out on Black Friday after all. If I go out, I do it to observe and to be an emissary of peace, and to maybe make someone’s day. If I can be one of the people who lets others go first, who refuses to compete for the last game or sweater, maybe I can remind people what the Christmas season is really about.
Thanksgiving reminds us to be grateful for what we have and for the special people in our lives. Christmas gives us an opportunity to show that appreciation in meaningful ways. Our appreciation for each other doesn't come from a box, store or credit card. It comes from our hearts. With that in mind, I challenge you to see Black Friday for exactly what it is: a blatant attempt by retailers to get you to spend as much money as possible.
I challenge you to go out, If you choose to participate, with the awareness that we are all part of the same whole. I challenge you to let someone else have the last pair of half-priced socks or the last sale-priced flat screen. I challenge you most of all to remember that your value is not in how much you spend but in how you treat others.
Or better yet, skip the whole event and give others your greatest gift of all: You.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.