Here comes the holiday season. It’s a month-long season of friends, family and spiritual reflection, and a time to decompress from our usual helter-skelter lives. It kicks off with Thanksgiving: the one holiday on our calendar that’s meant to be a calm, family-oriented time to get away from all the hubbub of life and reflect on our blessings, right?
“Good lord,” shout the corporate bosses, “are you nuts? Do you think America is some kind of Norman Rockwell fantasyland? This is the Season of Mass Consumerism, bucko, so lift your tail out of that La-Z-Boy and hit the malls — pronto! And if you happen to have a job in a chain store, don’t even think about taking a holiday, or you won’t have a job the next day. Let us now praise the one god we all serve: mammon!”
Years ago, Macy’s started Black Friday (the day of nonstop door-buster sales and commercial hype that now overwhelms Thanksgiving) as a kickoff to this Holy Month of Frenzied Commercialization. But it produced such a surge of profits that Wal-Mart and other chains converted to the Church of Perpetual Selling. Black Friday used to begin the day after Thanksgiving. For the past two years, reaching for more, the Elmer Gantrys of Wal-Mart dared to desecrate Thanksgiving itself by opening their doors to the Black Friday masses at 6 p.m. — on Thursday night.
This year, Macy’s, Target, J.C. Penney and others are also pushing the Friday Shop-a-Rama into Thursday. Toys “R” Us will open at 5 p.m., intruding even deeper into Thanksgiving family dinner hour. And pushing excess to a new high, Kmart is expected to do as it did last year and open its doors at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. Yes, 6 a.m.! A Wal-Mart executive responded to these even-earlier openings: “We thought 6 o’clock (p.m.) was the exact right time to win the weekend.”
Wow — did you ever think of Thanksgiving as something to “win”? But then, your spiritual devotion to mammon probably isn’t as ardent as that executive’s.
Meanwhile, the same guy reports that the one million low-wage workers who will have to staff the Thanksgiving profit-grab are “really excited to work that day.”
Sure, they’re excited — “excited” as in agitated. Imagine if no one came to this nationwide Super-Spectacular Sale Day across America. I don’t mean if customers didn’t show up, but if the sales staff, stockers, cashiers and even the managers didn’t show up to open the doors and hustle customers through the store in the usual frenzy of mass, crass, crazy consumerism. But that’s silly, of course. It’s even slightly un-American to think that stores wouldn’t open to cash in on a hugely promoted retail bonanza.
Yet there it is. REI, the national purveyor of outdoor gear and sporting goods, says it will no longer participate in the Black Friday shopping spectacle. In recent years, national chains have led a corporate assault on Thanksgiving with a buy-buy-buy blitz of consumer come-ons. “Rush to the mall,” shout the barrage of Black Friday ads, enticing us to trade our moral values for monetary ones, to care only about scoring lower-priced stuff.
“Enough!” says REI. The national retail co-op with 143 stores and $2.2 billion a year in sales is raising the ethical bar this year within its own enterprise by canceling its participation in Black Friday. Instead of shopping on the Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving weekend, REI is urging its employees and customers to break out — literally. Take a walk with family and friends, enjoy a bike ride, visit a public park and otherwise get outside the soul-suffocating syndrome of constant consumerism.
What a concept: Don’t shop; live! Connect with people, nature, the spirits and yourself. For more information go to REI’s special website: www.optoutside.rei.com.