A "Black Friday" Cultural Experience

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November 29, 2011

I had an interesting cultural experience last week. Visiting friends for the U.S. thanksgiving holiday, we were invited to accompany them on a late night / early morning shopping adventure, also known to many as "Black Friday."

Although this is the third U.S. thanksgiving season I have experienced living in Virginia, and the third "Black Friday," it is the first time that I have participated in any of the consumer events surrounding the day after the U.S. thanksgiving day. Other years, my spouse and I have intentionally avoided any spending or shopping on that day as our little statement against the consumerist culture. 
 
I didn't know the extent of it. Due to the circumstances, we decided to go along. Very quickly, we were caught up in the planning and excitement. Looking at fliers, searching for "opening hours" online, debating traffic routes and estimated arrival times, and making lists of gifts to buy or things we might get "if we happen to see a good deal." We found ourselves swept away in the consumer culture even before leaving the house.
 
At a moment of pause, my spouse and I had a chance to reconnect and realize what we were doing. Again we thought about our participation in this national ritual and the values that seemed to be behind it. We agreed to remind each other about our commitment not to buy anything and re-focused on our purpose of relationship.
 
At 3:00am, we got up, quickly got dressed, grabbed a cup of hot tea, and headed out the door. By shortly after 4:00am, we arrived at the shopping outlet. Already, crowds of people were coming out of the shopping area with arms full of bulging, distended bags.
 
In our hours of people watching, I saw many determined faces, rushed and eager, with tired and sagging eyes, and a driven air about them. Whether it was my bias or not, it seemed like I heard more snappy and sharp voices within groups of shoppers than I've ever noticed before. The whole atmosphere felt like it would suck me in if given even the slightest chance.
 
By the end of the morning, I had begun to understand more fully the power of consumerism… and its affect on me. I had started out with a sort of smug judgement of such fervent shoppers getting up at unreal hours just for a "good deal." Yet, I felt its pull on me. Strongly. I saw myself getting absorbed very easily into the surf of such a compelling culture. I see myself in the struggle daily. It only comes out more visibly on a high contrast day such as "Black Friday." 
 
While Canada might be able to escape the language of "Black Friday," Canadians have their other days and just as many persuasive reasons to buy. In the midst of such a dominant way of thinking and being, I wonder how can we respond as Christians who are just as pulled in by our culture as anyone else?
 
On Friday, when the sun rose brilliantly over the shop roofs, I decided to take a more humble, joyful stance and simply bring a smile to any interaction that day, to focus on the people I saw rather than that sales, and to try to remember who I am: vulnerable, imperfect, seeking, struggling, and loved.
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