I confess, I despise “Black Friday.” I hate the way consumers are urged to haul their Thanksgiving-exhausted selves out to stores — away from family members who have often traveled some distance to come together — so they can surrender their human dignity or assault the dignity of others in order to snag a ten-dollar sweater and a waffle-maker for $9.99.
And I hate the way consumers go along with it.
I hate the way the mad buying and bad behavior is attached to Christmas — the coming of the Christ was meant to set us free, and yet the over-commercialization of “the Holidays” feeds our greed and tethers us to our possessions in a way that can only weigh us down, more firmly, to earthly concerns.
We are not released, only further encumbered.
And am I the only one who, each year, finds the Christmas commercials less ingratiating and more off-putting? “The season” has only just begun, but already I can’t stand the commercial where a son travels through snow to see his parents, only to find an empty house, because his Boomer parents — not interested in welcoming him — have sneaked out the back and taken his car for a spin? “Click!” The channel changes every time that commercial comes on.
She’s not writing specifically about Christmas, but in her column this week on Patheos, Elizabeth Duffy examines the emptiness of a life too full of things:
It’s time to admit that just as my kids don’t play with the wooden toys I’d prefer them to play with, I don’t wear half my clothes; I’ll never read half my books; and I don’t bake specialty cakes. And yet, over the years I have accumulated an outrageous number of artifacts for a multi-faceted fantasy life that no one in this house actually lives.
Accumulating all of that stuff — it actually creates distance between our real selves and what we think we’re supposed to be, as dictated to us through advertisers and trends. Buy these $400 shoes and you will be happy; imagine yourself walking down a runway in this dress (that no one can actually wear unless they’re built like an adolescent boy) and it will mean something to you. Really, it will.
But it never does. Because things are just things. They don’t add to your wisdom; they don’t make you a better or kinder or happier person. If you give them your love, they won’t love you back.
As Elizabeth writes:
Because I can afford them, I’ll buy five pairs of jeans in search of the one perfect pair. I may only spend twenty bucks, and have five pairs of name-brand jeans, but who needs them? Who can store them? Who has the lifestyle to support five pairs of name-brand jeans? Not me. And to be real, I probably have three times that, because I have my normal jeans, my pregnant jeans, and my fat jeans wardrobe. Also a skinny jeans wardrobe, just in case.
So there, I have clothed myself, and all my potential selves, on a dime. Yay me.
I used to make my peace with “Black Friday” and the excesses of “the season” because I considered that even the bad behavior was rooted, ultimately, in love; that people were acting like loons over “things” because they were motivated by their love for their families. But that’s not convincing me, any longer.
Each year, I find myself less willing to take part in any of this, less persuaded that I must go out and buy “things” for people who already have more than enough of everything, because somehow this is supposed to demonstrate my love. “Things” mean love.
Well, I’m not doing it. The littlest kids are getting gifts (small ones; hello chess sets!) — and everyone else is getting homemade cookies or Monastic soaps, cremes and candies — high-quality “things” that are quickly used and gone, and whose purchase helps sustain houses of prayer — or books that can actually change people’s lives by helping them to find a measure of true comfort and joy, those two genuine gifts of Christmas. The parish outreach will get the bulk of our Christmas fund.
Advent begins this weekend, and it should be a time of quietening-down, of expectation born of introspection and prayer, and yet those straining to hear the voices of prophecy and heralding angels hear only “buy, buy, buy!”.
Somewhere between the excesses of the Occupy Wall Street crowd and the excesses of the Black Friday Shoppers, there is balance and reason. But increasingly, our culture can only swing between the two extremes.
The ride is making me sick. I want off.
Elizabeth Scalia is a Benedictine Oblate and the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos. She is a writer, speaker and a regularly-featured columnist at First Things and at The Catholic Answer. This column originally appeared on her blog, The Anchoress.