‘Tis the Season

As retailers celebrate a better-than-expected 2011 Black Friday, it is well worth remembering just what mayhem they have wrought in their creation of an exciting kick-off to the holiday shopping season. 

Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus was God’s gift of salvation to a sinful mankind unable to redeem itself. His perfect sacrifice paid the debt God demanded for our sins, and this selfless act is celebrated as our greatest gift. We remember Christ’s sacrifice through the giving of gifts to those we love. We smile a little brighter, act a little more friendly, show a little more concern, and generally feel a little better towards our fellow man during the Christmas Season. We teach our children traditional values as we relate to them the true meaning of Christmas. Who hasn’t heard that it is better to give than to receive when discovering a less than ideal present after tearing through the wrapping?

In the spirit of providing those things desired by consumers, capitalists seized upon Christmas as a way to generate huge profits through shoppers’ tendency to overindulge their appetite for giving. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that and everyone benefits from the arrangement. Somewhere along the way, retailers came to depend on Christmas as the largest part of their yearly profits, and worried at the very real prospect of going under after a depressed holiday shopping season. To build excitement and create the illusion among shoppers that reality was somehow suspended, retailers designated the Friday after Thanksgiving as the unofficial start to the Christmas shopping season and created the spectacle of Black Friday; a day where bargains were offered to those lucky few able to arrive early enough to snag the limited merchandise displayed at the special sale prices.

This retailing gimmick was wildly successful for rescuing a seemingly depressed shopping season and quickly became an event unto itself. In fact, it has become so successful that shoppers arrive early enough to camp out in front of stores while awaiting their opportunity to partake of bargains on which they can later brag. Gone is the spirit of Christmas whereby Christian attitudes of civility and concern were demonstrated toward total strangers. In its place has arisen a dog-eat-dog attitude of every man for himself as shoppers descend onto bargain tables like a pack of ravenous wolves devouring a carcass during a brutal winter. No mercy is dare shown towards the competition as shoppers snatch up the latest Christmas craze advertisers have designated as the must-have product under the Christmas tree. Children are encouraged to make their preferences known in advance so as to give parents the opportunity to let Santa know exactly what is wanted and at the best price.

Each year’s Black Friday brings ever more shameful episodes of behavior as Americans engage in a ritual created by retailers and fueled by advertisers. This year, in addition to the usual stampede of shoppers decamping at midnight from what appear to be Occupy Wall Street protests in front of stores, we learn that a woman at a Los Angeles Wal-Mart, with her three children in tow, pepper-sprayed a crowd of shoppers waiting for Xbox video game systems to gain the upper hand in her frenzied quest to obtain a bargain. Gunfire erupted at a mall in North Carolina and, thankfully, no one was injured. A group in a Little Rock, Arkansas Wal-Mart hung up in a fight over two-dollar waffle irons as none were about to concede defeat over such a meaningless article.

Retailers have created a classic Lord-of-the-Flies situation whereby shoppers competing for scarce bargains suspend any pretense at civility in their bid to obtain that which they desire. The more egregious cases face prosecution through our criminal justice system for crossing the line to obtain the things of this world in a gross misrepresentation of the Christmas Season. Our children learn from our actions, so imagine what they must be learning when they see their parents pepper-spray a crowd, hang up in a fight, or snatch something away from a stranger just to pretend that they are celebrating God’s greatest gift to mankind.

Instead of using the criminal justice system to prosecute the less serious of these abuses, I believe that a much more effective punishment would be to record on video each perpetrator recounting their actions and explaining why their actions were warranted and how they fit into the Christmas Spirit. These videos would be prominently displayed in retail stores across the country and played on an endless loop as shoppers collected the items on their Christmas wish lists. Perhaps the shameful spectacle of these videos would remind other shoppers to restrain their animalistic tendencies lest they end up with their own video souvenir. It would certainly be an unpleasant reminder of how these aggressive consumers had misunderstood the reason for the season. I say it’s time to resist this overt marketing ploy to juice up holiday sales known as Black Friday and spend our time reflecting on the gift God bestowed on an undeserving mankind. ‘Tis the season to remember the reason.

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