From left, Mark Pugh, Frankie and Pam Davis, and Jamie Pugh look over the discounts that await them when Best Buy’s doors open at midnight, at the Wards Crossing Shopping Center in Lynchburg, Va., Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011. Mark Pugh was first in line at Best Buy, arriving at 5:15 a.m., beating the next arrivals by about 15 minutes.
Many church-going folks love to shop. Heck, I’m one of the organizers of a campaign called Buy Nothing Christmas, and I still find a perverse pleasure in looking at prices comparing features and, yes, even paying for products at stores.
But, as one inspired by the teachings of Jesus, not shopping has become an important expression of my faith. Let me explain:
To me, Black Friday is essentially our version of a religious pilgrimage. We worship in the mega stores, make schedules around holiday deals, display allegiance to brands and low prices, offer tithes to the cashiers. Masses of people swarm the stores with hype and fervor. But where’s the meaning? The deep meaning?
We know we’re placating the gods. Which is why Christians need to pull back from the biggest shopping day of the year. Retail products occupy too much space in our homes and hearts.
It’s not that there’s something more important than the economy, it’s that the economy needs to be re-fashioned. Jesus acknowledged wealth and power (give to Caesar what his Caesar’s) and sought to undermine it (woe to the rich, blessed are the poor).
By resisting the impulse to shop for deals on Black Friday we stand at the feet of the retail titans and, with the power of non-cooperation, we challenge the injustices of poor labor conditions, exploitative hiring practices, unfair monopolies, and irresponsible resource extraction.
It’s dumb to say it this way, but Jesus was like Gandhi before Gandhi was Gandhi. He came alongside the poor masses and gave them hope because he stood up to the enforcers of empire.
Worship of the deal is the way of the rich; it’s also the way of out-sourcing labor to Mexico, China and probably the moon. Chasing the deal fractures our communities.
Christians resist Black Friday because they want to build community by giving gifts that are hand-made, home-baked, bartered among friends or obtained from a locally-owned, fair-trade retailer who (obviously) can’t afford to (and doesn’t want to) cut prices to keep up with the cut-throat practices of industry.
It’s deeply rewarding to cultivate the discipline to say “no” to the best deal or the newest gadget. When you take a consumer fast from Black Friday, you develop the personal power to resist temptations.
Okay, this is not sexy. But it’s character building. It’s also a step towards spiritual fulfillment — that great and noble goal which ads can only mimic and possessions can dilute.
Nov. 23, 2010, a woman looks at a DKNY holiday window display, in New York.
Seven reasons to resist Black Friday
To conclude, I offer seven incentives for Christians to resist Black Friday.
1. Save money. Sure, this is a crass appeal to your inner pocketbook. But it’s true! You can save money if you shift your Christmas gift giving habits. Give a few very special things: a family heirloom, a scrapbook of memories or fond thoughts, a favorite meal or celebration. And hey, Jesus didn’t shop to show his love, he gave a buffet of bread and fish and provided home-made wine.
2. Find inner peace. Away from the din of deals and under the clutter of gadgets is a sense of serenity available to you. It sounds like fortune cookie wisdom but it’s true: quiet resistance to consumer culture is the way to personal peace.
3. Celebrate non-material joy. This might sound boring, but for those who already have the basics (and I don’t mean a second car and TV for every room), the secret of joy and happiness lies in developing non-material riches: build relationships, foster generosity, acquire skills, volunteer in the community.
4. Practice social justice. Jesus challenged the powers of his day (Roman rulers and religious overlords) and chose solidarity with people at the lowest ranks. We can challenge economic powers with what we buy, who made the goods and who profits from them. Most of the deals on Black Friday won’t qualify as fair-trade items. So stay home and support other shops another day.
5. Teach kids new values. Let’s teach children to show love in the most precious way: through kindness, loyalty, creativity, affection, self-sacrifice, humor and devotion. Let’s not associate love with the size or price tag of a present. Besides running the risk of emotional bribery, it fosters low self-esteem when the purchasing power wanes. Elevate the splendid, intangible riches of love and we well equip our kids for whatever comes.
6. Suffer a little. To stay home on Black Friday is to be counter cultural, out of synch. You might even miss out on some special prices for gifts you want to buy. Principled restraint welcomes solidarity with those who have less. Voluntary poverty is the way of the Christ. Voluntary simplicity is an appropriate lifestyle for those caught in the web of a global super power.
7. Incarnate love. Imagine you are a chaplain on Black Friday. Don’t enter the frenzy, be a calming presence and show an alternate way.
Aiden Enns is the co-founder of buynothingchristmas.org and the founder and editor of Geez magzine in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He holds graduate degrees in religion and journalism. Each year he and his partner make Christmas gifts for their 18 nieces and nephews.