Conspiracy Theory

Blame it on the fact that we are a single-income family who can't afford to make shopping a viable form of entertainment (at least not if we want to pay the rent, buy food, and pay off our student loans). Blame it on the fact that I've always had a hard time understanding the "shop-till-you-drop" mentality. Blame it on the fact that I already have too much stuff and routinely feel guilty when I think about those who have nothing. Blame it on the fact that I get claustrophobic in big crowds, or that shopping and consumerism often bring out the very worst in people. But whatever the reason, I have never understood the appeal of Black Friday.

I'm not anti-shopping. And there are times that I myself do enjoy shopping. But I will never - I promise, never! - head over to Old Navy at 3am to do any post-Thanksgiving shopping. I will never stand in line at Best Buy or Macy's or WalMart or anywhere else to take advantage of "first 500 people" door-busters. I appreciate good deals, but never at the expense of my sanity...or my dignity!

But what truly disturbs me about Black Friday has little to do with the shopping experience itself, and more to do with the weight that our culture, our media, and our economy give to this one day, and to the "season" that it kicks off. The season that Black Friday begins isn't Christmas or Advent or the holidays...it's the so-called "Holiday Shopping Season."

Three articles in Time this month are devoted to Black Friday and its implications for and about our economy:

Can Retailers Get Consumers into the Christmas Spirit?
Retailers Gear Up for Black Friday
Holiday Shopping: This Year it's a Game of Chicken

These articles speak of Black Friday as a gauge of our country's economic health and our collective consumer disposition. These articles speak from a perspective that it is good if we keep our retailers afloat and profitable, and bad if we don't - a perspective that implicitly says "the ability to buy stuff is one value that we as a country must uphold." I know I sound like a first-class cynic here, but is anyone else disturbed that we are more concerned with the health of our retail institutions that we are with the health of our minds and our souls?

I repeat - there's nothing inherently bad about shopping, and I won't try to convince anyone to stay home this Friday if they feel like braving the malls. But I feel like there has to be something better that we can get anxious about than the fact that this year's holiday shopping season is five days (including one weekend) shorter than other years, given Thanksgiving's late date. We can do better than this. We really can.

I just finished reading Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World? It's a book that coincides with the [AC] Advent Conspiracy movement, which attempts to reclaim a vision for the holiday season that is centered around God, relationships, worship, and service. In stark contrast to Black Friday panic, AC encourages us to make better choices with our money and our gifts, and to make better choices about the values we seek in the Advent and Christmas seasons.

I don't know about you, but I'd much rather talk about these next few weeks in terms of the hope and joy of Advent, rather than in terms of dollars and cents.

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