Black Friday: A new festival for the church of consumption

Just part of the horrors of consumerism celebrated today

Just part of the horrors of consumerism celebrated today

It’s that time of year again. A monstrosity of an occurrence imported from America called ‘Black Friday’. Only the nation that has a festival dedicated to being thankful for what they have could invent an event the very next day where they underscore what they do not have and want.  In theory this is the time of year when American businesses would go ‘into the black’ financially. But it has become so much more. Introduced to the UK by Amazon 5 years ago, Black Friday caught my attention 4 years ago. I was in my last year of uni, and came in to see my housemate staring almost shocked at the scenes unfolding on the television. Scenes of people in supermarkets literally coming to blows over consumer goods and offers as they descended upon the ‘sale’ like a swarm of locusts – acquiring a cheap television while losing the last vestiges of civilised dignity.

Now, the word black has always conjured up images in my mind of a tragedy – there have been plenty of ‘black’ days, usually signifying a major incident, defeat in battle, or economic crash. It’s not the kind of word that one associates with something to be encouraged. Yet here we are, bowing our heads at the altar of hedonistic consumerism, taking the sacrament of ladening ourselves with debt in order to buy stuff we likely don’t need. It is almost perverse that in times of global scarcity and when so many are going without that we debase ourselves in observance of this ‘event’. Now, I’m not adverse to a good sale if there’s something I need or am likely to need – but Black Friday is marketed to the populace as something you ‘just do’ whether you need to demonstrate your credit card’s flexibility or not.

In effect, it is becoming a festival or observance in it’s own right. Christmas has become the anticlimax of The Festival of the Days. The Four Days of Sale. I.E. Black Friday to Cyber Monday. And I think it stinks.

A lot of the goods offered for sale by the major companies for ‘black friday’ are not even of good quality. A friend who works in a major electronics retailer said that some of these massively discounted TVs being sold have sat in a warehouse since last year’s post-Christmas sales.

So I haven’t bought anything today, apart from a pint of lubricating oil and some petrol for the bike.

There is a movement to make an alternative sale day called ‘Small Business Saturday’ where people go and support small, local businesses. I also find this vulgar – it is the penance for the excesses of The Festival of The Days. I would much rather people support small businesses all year round, buying from us when you need something rather than making a statement once a year.

There is an alternative still, called ‘buy nothing Friday’, encouraging people to effectively boycott Black Friday. But I think that rather than complaining about the Festival of the Days, we need to have a serious discussion with ourselves about: What matters in life? What is a celebration? What does giving mean? What does receiving mean?

I’m sure if you asked a millionaire, dying of a terminal condition and spending his last day with his family around his deathbed what he was looking forward to buying in the Black Friday Sale, he wouldn’t give a shit. I doubt a poor man would either. The thing that matters there is family and using what time you have left wisely. Similar, what is a celebration? It is a marking of a special day – a time for people to come together and celebrate our lives, our existence, our humanity – not our purchasing power. What does giving mean then – and why not give of ourselves; whether it be our time and good wishes to mankind? And lastly what does receiving mean? In a world that seems more entitled by the year, we are losing the ability to receive other people’s gifts, offerings, time, and company with a good grace. We are forgetting how to participate in that ebb and flow of energy and action.

Lastly, there is a saying that whenever you appear to get something for nothing, you are the product. Perhaps with Black Friday, you are paying the balance you save in the sales not with money, but with surrendering some of your humanity to megacororations to license back to you in small doses in order you feel almost – but never quite good enough, and will keep the amusement park of commerce open for business 24/7, 365 as we look for our next fix, while we try to plug the gap in our contentedness and even sanity.

I will leave you with two parting thoughts, a fact, and a suggestion. The biggest gift I was given today was the opportunity to help people in my work, work given graciously and gladly. The best thing I took from today was the decision to dive into the winter sunlight – to let my spirits soar in the sharp air and exist in a state of joy just for being alive. The fact of the day is that in Welsh, Black Friday is ‘Dydd Gwener y Gwario Gwyrion’ – The Friday of Stupid Spending. And My hearty recommendation is that you head over to the marvellous blog ,Merry Midwinter‘ and learn how to start reclaiming an authentic festive season* without the stupidity


* Because it is a season of festivals, Across time, history, cultures and countries there are many midwinter festivals – it isn’t all just about Christmas.

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Many years ago I was a buyer in a department store. We started planning and buying for the January sale in June. The sales started on 2nd January (unless a Sunday, then it was 3rd) – Then the sales moved to the day after Boxing Day.. then Boxing Day then The pre-xmas week and now it’s November.
I remember the first time I worked Boxing Day thinking “Haven’t you saddos got anything better to do with your precious family time?”

Herbary says:

Yep… When I was a kid the sales had only reached Boxing Day – and that seemed to be stuff like furniture and clothes. But now it seems to be everything you can think of… and especially technology/IT products. Fair play to Apple though, Black Friday wasn’t even mentioned on their website. Perhaps these sales will go earlier still and the sales will start sometime in the summer, leaving Christmas alone and I won’t notice because I’ll be camped out at a hippie festival!

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