By Anthony B. Robinson
Given the other conflicts raging here and there you may have missed this one, the
Battle of Thanksgiving.
The Battle of Thanksgiving? Really? Isn’t the Thanksgiving holiday, which we celebrate this week, a time of sharing and savoring, drawing together in gratitude and grace? Isn’t it a time for remembering and telling stories, welcoming to our homes those who are far from homes of their own, and giving thanks for the sheer gift and wonder of life, despite its losses and tragedies?
Something like that is the idea.
But an alternate faith and order is waging war against even Thanksgiving’s brief twenty- four hours. The alternate faith is Consumerism. Its temples are malls; it’s chapels, the big-box stores. Black Friday is its high, holy day.
Not only are a host of stores, including Wal-Mart, KMart and Target, open for business on the national holiday of Thanksgiving, but this year the Black Friday shopping frenzy gets underway at the very stroke of midnight in stores and malls across the land of the free and the home of brave.
Best Buy, Target, Old Navy, Gap, Victoria’s Secret, the Disney Stores and a dozen more will open their doors at midnight. Still, its a kind of rolling start, perhaps so buyers can experience the thrill of store openings in the wee hours at multiple sites in succession.
Sears and JC Penny open at 4:00 am, followed by KMart and Lowe’s at 5:00. Not to be left behind, Office Depot, Office Max and Staples begin moving paper and office supplies at 6:00. Why even Tractor Supply will open at 6:00 a.m. on Black Friday. “Tractor Supply?”
Note that these consumer meccas are dis-aggregated from community. They do not stand on any real Main Street. They are not locally-owned or small businesses. These they drive out of business. Moreover, all summon to work, and away from their own families and rest, those paid a minimum wage without benefits.
If the Occupy Movement really wanted to raise America’s hackles and get a very swift boot, it might try occupying the malls on Black Friday.
Two holy days, two faiths go head-to-head this week. One savors the idea of gratitude, a sense of harvest abundance and enough. The other cultivates grab and grasp, an anxious sense of scarcity, of never enough. One may be forgiven for feeling a bit schizonphrenic.
Thanksgiving would teach us the patience associated with the season’s cycles, planting and harvest and an older and mostly by-gone America; consumerism offers 24/7 convenience and the instant gratifications of a global economy and its sweat shops.
If Thanksgiving would savor contentment, consumerism thrives by discontent, the burning need to have the newest and latest, preferably before others do.
Thanksgiving invites and encourages generosity; Black Friday is all about profit- maximization.
Or maybe the two aren’t so different after all? Perhaps Thanksgiving too is more about consumption than grateful hearts, more about more than enough?
One can hardly blame the shoppers whose incomes count for less year by year for seeking the sales. We are hectored into buying not only by truly degrading advertisments, but by banks that blandish credit and debit cards like drug dealers offering crack and speed. Not to be outdone, politicians urge shopping as sacred duty.
“The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.” Wordsworth’s words seem never more true.
Consider something really counter-cultural this year, keep thanksgiving. Let it linger, even beyond its appointed twenty-four hours.
Savor graitude slowly and let it grow. Say a deep thank you for all that cannot be gotten but only given: nature’s wonder, faith’s wisdom, prayer’s power, the beautiful wherever it finds a toe-hold, and acts of kindness that suprise and touch us.
Even if its bad for economy, say no to consumerism’s anxious litany, “Never Enough, Never Enough.” Refuse to trade your identity as citizen and child of God for a real mess of pottage, “Identity: Consumer.” Sort out the difference between need and want. Refuse to buy crap. Cultivate a sense of abundance that depends not on stuff but upon the intangibles of community, grace and kindness.