Notes from the Glebe

Dispatch from a Black Friday Conscientious Objector

Nov 28, 11:59 AM

by Katharine O’Connor

Perhaps I have just missed out on some common knowledge, but I am willing to venture that others too do not know why we call that all-important shopping day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday.” I have only recently been enlightened on this fact and I will pass along the favor. Up until today, department stores operate at a loss, and do not usually break even, but with today’s sales, they make up for a whole year’s worth of losses, going from “the red” to “the black”. This makes me pretty nervous.

I do not mean to be a complete grouch about Thanksgiving, and so truly enjoy the time I spend with my loved ones, but I can’t help wondering about the spirit of this holiday and how it fits in with a modern American worldview. For the previous year the primary thoughts of a lot Americans has been getting “green,” frugality, and buckling down for some tough times ahead, but this holiday is not particularly conducive to that sentiment. Thanksgiving traditionally represents being grateful for what we’ve been given, that we have survived another year, and that we are pretty sure we’ll have enough food to get us through the winter. It is this last part I am interested in at this moment. We have come to associate Thanksgiving with fecundity, abundance and surplus, and with the classic iconography of enormous obese smiling turkeys dressed up as pilgrims and the requisite full-to-bursting cornucopias. For this one holiday we forget those issues we have been concerned with the rest of the year. “Le Green, C’est Chic” and watching our spending are for a little while set aside, and we celebrate with mass transit and overconsumption. Am I suggesting that our behavior at Thanksgiving is a neat little microcosm for the general American attitude? Not particularly, but I do think that showing restraint in one area of our lives teaches us to show restraint in others.

I am currently spending my day at home with my family, we having sworn amongst ourselves that no deal, however tempting, will in any way induce us to enter any store upon this day. While it is utterly unreasonable to suppose that anyone can stop Americans from shopping on Black Friday, I think a little pause for an examination of how we honor this holiday would not go amiss. That abundance does not mean an obligation, or permission, to consume that abundance without boundaries, and that just because something is available to you at a low cost does not mean that it should be indiscriminately and instantly obtained, are lessons that should not only apply to the holidays in turbulent times, but to our friendships, relationships, eating habits, household economics and interactions with our planet. Until we change our fundamental thinking about how to treat abundance, we cannot possibly hope to change our behaviors of consumption. As I sit here in the post-holiday daze, with my cold turkey sandwich, taking one small step at a time towards a change in that thinking does not appear so difficult.

“Refrain…and that shall lend a kind of easiness to the next abstinence and the next more easy; For use almost can change the stamp of nature…”
Hamlet, Act. II, sc. IV



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