11/26/2011

advent - black friday thoughts

NOTE: These posts are not meant as a criticism of how anyone else "does" Christmas, or a boast of how we're doing it all right. They are just a way for me to process what's going on in me as we practice these disciplines.

It's not even Advent, and I can already feel a change, in just these few days. The garish frenzy of CHRISTMAS! CHRISTMAS! BUY! BUY! BUY! all around us - the lights, noise, color, and stress (pepper spray? shootings? Black Friday starting the Thursday before?) - stands in stark contrast to the quietness we're trying to pursue. Even before the official kick-off to the holiday season, we've been preparing to withdraw, so it feels weird to see this unfolding around us, but not touching us.

Friday, we unofficially participated in Buy Nothing Day. We made sure we had firewood, food, and the things we were assigned for the family Thanksgiving celebration by Wednesday, so we could ignore the call of the wild and just enjoy each other all weekend. No traffic, no parking, no angry people...

Several Facebook friends commented on this too, describing how they were spending their days instead of shopping: "I just put the apple crisp in the oven." "Leftover Pie for breakfast." "Happy Pajama Day! We're staying in to watch movies and play games."

And they got a lot of crap for it.

One commenter was particularly harsh, claiming that in our current economy, to not go shopping was selfish. Another got quite animated that she had to do Black Friday to get the gifts her family wanted, because she couldn't afford them otherwise.

Wait. What? We have to go shopping? And the only possible way to show our loved ones and neighbors that we care is by buying them stuff? And the right stuff? The stuff they want?

Blegh.

Now - I have friends and family members who love Black Friday. They get up early and make a whole fun, event of it. Cocoa or coffee in their mugs, carols on the radio - they see it as a chance to shop and visit and have some girl time. (I don't personally know any guys who do Black Friday, but I'm sure they're out there.) It's a tradition for them, and they do get great deals. I have nothing against a good deal. And I have nothing against my friends doing this. They certainly aren't out beating people up.

But I do have to question a culture that has made buying stuff the only acceptable way to express love.

MM and I are buying presents for people, but we're trying to scale things back, both in terms of money and in stress. We're trying to make things simple and meaningful and small. To decrease the focus on material things, and find other ways to show people that we love them. (I mean, what we really want is to communicate our love all the time and not just during the holidays!)

We haven't got this all figured out yet, and I don't think it will be easy. What we're trying to do definitely goes against the grain for our culture. Our people expect "wow" presents too, and our gifts may not be "wow"y enough this year. And that creates some tension. We feel guilty for not wowing them. And the guilt is especially intense when we know someone else spent a lot of money (or got up at 3am on the Friday after Thanksgiving to stand in line in the cold and dark) on us. Awkward.

And we have been conditioned to BUY! BUY! BUY!!! too. We don't have a TV, so we don't get exposed to all the commercials, but the other day, while watching Hulu, I heard a Sears commercial, and had a Pavlovian "awww, it's Christmas" response to the familiar sound. I can still remember Christmas commercial jingles from my childhood, "Merry Christmas, Merry Merry Christmas, from your Kmart Christmas Store!" We went to the mall for an eye exam, and I wanted to stroll around looking at the decorations and displays. It wasn't even Thanksgiving.

So. We have our work cut out for us, but feel like this is doing something in us. Do we just go with the flow too much? Do we rely on presents to show love, instead of finding other ways? Do we wait until this time of year to tell people we care? Do we let the pressure to "wow" people, force us into spending past our budget and incurring debt? Is there a different way to do this? How can we invest our dollars and time and other resources wisely in these season?

So, for right now, we're sitting in the questions. Waiting.

4 comments:

  1. Black Friday has certaintly taken on it's own personality. I've never shopped on Friday except for needed groceries. Every year it's gets out of hand and a sad commentary on our society and priorities.Although i don't shop on friday, I do stress myself out for having a memory filled Christmas for ds. I can be just as bad with my priorities.
    On the flip side, I applaud the employees who worked those crazy hours and dealt with all crowds. If working these hours do help some folks pay bills, feed their families and have something a little extra and special at Christmas, I totally understand.I hope because of our craziness somebody will have food on their table or be able to pay their rent or repair their car or whatever. I've been thinking about those folks this past few days.

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  2. Thank you for your honest, wonderful post. I so understand the struggle and the questions. I think this time of the year, more than any other, I feel conflicted. Torn between wanting to just simply celebrate with gratitude and also desiring (& feeling expectations - real or imagined) to buy the "wow" gifts. Honestly, if I look back on years past, I've been exhausted & stressed...perhaps more motivated at times by not wanting to disappoint in the gift giving arena than by giving just out of love. The whole point of the Christmas Story is relationship, right? Simple relationship. I don't know what that means exactly except that it surely involves joy. I want my family to truly hear the angel's words this year...

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  3. Lynette - Oh, so true that even non-Black Friday shopping can be stressful. Gah. I am not good at shopping. And here is an entire holiday when I'm supposed to buy gifts for everyone I know! All at once! And this is in between work, church, concerts, and cocktail parties. I am one of those people standing there on Christmas eve, "Yes! Yes, I think my 90 year old aunt would LOVE the latest Snoop Dog CD!."

    And yeah, if someone wants the hours and the overtime pay, I hope it does help them. But when I worked in stores, most of the folks working were the least-senior employees whether they wanted to or not. I remember getting off at midnight Christmas Eve and driving three hours through the fog to get home for Christmas. I was young and energetic (dumb?) then, but if I had to start over at this age in a retail job, that schedule would mean missing the trip. I wonder how many of those employees are in the same boat - missing family time to support our consumer crazy?

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  4. Jenny - Conflicted. Totally. And yes, so many years of being exhausted and stressed and motivated in all the wrong ways. Who gets on my Christmas list? And at what rank? And if they buy me a $30 gift, and I buy then a $10 gift, will they still be my friend? And...

    "The whole point of the Christmas Story is relationship, right? Simple relationship." Yes. I long to connect with that too - whatever it means in our day.

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