So, Black Friday. You’re a tricky one, aren’t you?
There’s always a lot of controversy as to whether we should be partaking in such a flagrant display of consumerism (and Black Friday apologists are not helped by scenes like this in the States). Which is of course, the reason why Black Friday’s arch-nemesis, Buy Nothing Day, was invented.
While we know that Black Friday isn’t all about wig-ruffling stampedes and people having to be rushed to hospital after a run-in over a DVD player, we decided to ask a bunch of our friends whether they would take part in Buy Nothing Day today – and if not, why not?
When thinking about Buy Nothing Day, I started to wonder what real difference it would make to not buy peppers on the way home for my chicken faijita meal, or pick up four pints of milk for the fridge. I thought back to an earlier challenge I’d felt this week, when I was reminded about the mad Christmas rush coming on us, and the cultural pressure we feel to buy loads of gifts and come up with a list of things we really want – but if we’re honest, things we don’t really need.
So I’ve decided that, instead of not buying a few bits and pieces for a day, I’m going to commit to asking friends and family to refrain from buying me a gift this Christmas, and if they’re up for it, to donate the amount they would have spent to one of a few suggested charities. It’s not a radical idea, and it won’t change the world, but it’s my way of going against the commercial, pleasure-fest that often represents this time of year. So, this Buy Nothing Day, I’m trying to focus on what’s really important about the season of peace and goodwill to all.
For a Christian, following and obeying Jesus leads to a counter-cultural way of life that looks very different to how many of our non-believing friends might live. And this is a good thing; it is good news! We have a God whose burden is light! It is right then, that we examine how we live, and learn to make changes in our lives that display this new life we are living. We engage in ancient practices such as: gathering regularly with your local church; learning to serve; giving our time, talent and treasure to the work of the kingdom; life in community; the reading of Scripture; regular times of prayer and many other fantastic habits and disciplines. As we learn these things, we’re rarely removed from the context we were in before we knew Jesus. We still have the same families, we have the same jobs, we live in the same neighbourhoods … except now, we are on this journey of being made more like Jesus.
This is all good. What’s interesting to watch is whenever certain trends, fads or fashions come along that jar with our Christian values. Black Friday/Cyber Monday are great examples. The narrative of society is one of accumulation; you are what you own. People have been fooled into believing that true happiness is found in what can be bought. The Christian, though, knows that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than to enter the kingdom of God rich.
So, how might Christians engage in Black Friday? Should we boycott it and embrace Buy Nothing Day instead? In my opinion, that’s maybe not the best way forward. You see, Black Friday, and consumerism at large screams at us to accumulate for yourself: “You need a new TV! You need a new laptop! You need a new Kindle! You need another bag!” and so on, and so on. What about subverting the message of capitalism with the generosity we see espoused over and over in the Bible? What if, instead of buying nothing, we look for opportunities to be outrageously generous to someone? Maybe Buy Nothing Day could be Buy Nothing For Me, But Something For Somebody Else Day? Okay, maybe it’s not that catchy. But, to me, that is a far more interesting way of engaging with a “secular holiday” than avoiding it at all costs.
I might be in the minority, but I’m not a fan of Black Friday. The roots of Black Friday are covered in people wanting more. I’m a firm believer of finding a good deal and getting value for money, but Black Friday has become something else. Retailers try to portray the event as ‘getting a good deal’, but I believe the whole event is taking away from the Thanksgiving season, which is all about thanking God for the harvest he has provided. Maybe it’s because I usually only but things when I need them, but I won’t be buying anything for the sake of buying.
So, Black Friday isn’t something I regularly participate in. I used to be a bit of a shopaholic, but when you find yourself thinking that your next must-have purchase will be some new socks, I think it’s safe to say you’ve passed on the fashion baton to the next generation. But let’s not get complacent. Because Black Friday now presents itself to me, not as a way to spoil myself, but as a way to be a “good steward” of my money. To buy that item I’ve been eyeing up for AGES, for 40% less. True, it requires some discipline to wait until Black Friday to drop the £££’s (or it would, if the shops weren’t wising up to that, and having pre-Black Friday sales), but let’s not kid ourselves that Black Friday is a national celebration of self-restraint and penny-pinching.
By happy coincidence, I’ve been re-reading Oliver James’ Affluenza recently, which has made me far more aware of the “virus values” that I’ve been slowly adopting, evidenced by the virtual wish-list which I create and then carefully save and strategise for. So often, I’ve made my condemnation of consumerism center on the reckless abandon of spending; on the sheer amount of money dropped in a single luxury purchase. Basically, I’ve been protesting what I see as the bare-faced vulgarity of Black Friday, but not the values behind it; it’s an argument of taste rather than morality. I’ve failed to see that in fact, I’ve often bought into the narrative that I am a marketing character, shaped by advertising and a globalised sense of need; that I am someone who sees their life ultimately as a little less interesting, a little less beautiful, a little less fulfilled, if I don’t have something to buy. Yikes.
But, to the question at hand! Will I be buying nothing today? No. On Black Friday, I’m not going to be buying anything in the shops, but I have decided to do things that might mean that I open my wallet. I want to treat my husband to a date night, as well as call my parents and write a note to my sister. I’ve come to believe that fostering an attitude of generosity and connection (to God and others) are two things that can inoculate me against the cravings of the affluenza virus. So I’m marking Black Friday by investing time and energy – and yes, probably some money too – into some of my most important relationships.
I really want to say I hate Black Friday. I do love the idea of being super virtuous and joining the Buy Nothing Crew. I also hate the grabbing culture that surrounds this day. But then I also really need a new electronic toothbrush.
I’m currently buying a house and paying for a wedding, so I see today as an opportunity. I’m hoping to do the bulk of my Christmas shopping in these sales – buying the same gifts for friends and family that I would have otherwise bought, but at knock-down prices. Apart from the toothbrush, I’m not buying anything for myself. I’ve just got over the shame of the mortgage broker trawling through my bank statement, and it’s enough to put me in serious saving mode.
So I will be spending today, and probably quite a lot of money. But in the long term, I’m hoping this will mean I save money – which will go straight into the pocket of my solicitor, but that’s a post for another time…