28 November 2014
Thank God it's Friday
Fights over 40-inch TVs and buying Dyson vacuum cleaners when you don't know if you really want one; the madness of Black Friday broke out across the UK in the early hours of the morning, as shoppers desperate for the best bargain barged their way through pre-dawn darkness.
Black Friday is a recent import from across the Atlantic, marking the day after Thanksgiving when Americans traditionally hit the shops and get their Christmas shopping underway. Originally labelled Black for the traffic tailbacks and disruption, it has now become a simple marketing moniker. Over a dozen emails landed in my inbox this morning inviting me to save money by spending money. I took the advice of Dave Walker and promptly unsubscribed from them all.
Perhaps one redeeming feature of Black Friday is that at least it is what it says it is. Freddie Gray notes for the Spectator it's a consumer fest dressed up as a consumer fest, and not the corruption of older, usually religious, festivities. It is at these moments of refreshing clarity that we see what is happening: companies want to sell as much as they can, and we want to buy as much as we can, for as little as we can. As his colleague Isabel Hardman says, at least they're honest: "In a way, the people fighting over toasters at 4am are just being a bit more honest than the rest of us: they don't care that others can see their desperation for a bit more stuff, and they don't care if it means being vile to people they consider to be worth less than themselves."
In their Christmas adverts, John Lewis appeal to sentimentality and the desire for relationships and Sainsbury's mix nostalgia, chocolate and a desire for peace to take the place of war. But both do so to shift goods. There may be some additional noble intentions, but the primary motive is still to get our feet through the door, our clicks on their site and our cash in the tills.
There's an undeniable thread of greed in this unquenchable desire for more. Even in the desire for the best Christmas advert, the biggest discount, or the earliest opening time.
For Americans the day before Black Friday is Thanksgiving. A day to celebrate, often spent with family, where gluttony edges out greed for the sin de jour. For the last few years I've celebrated with friends from both sides of the Atlantic and cooked for more than is realistic in a domestic kitchen, and I'll do so again on Sunday –Trudy the Turkey arrived this morning. The part of the celebration that always catches me by surprise is the time we take to be thankful.
It is a practise I am too unfamiliar with, but one that is good for the soul. We go round the room, each giving thanks for something. It can be trivial, life-changing, tear-stained, or hope filled;it can provoke fits of laughter or prolonged, poignant silence. Being thankful is not something I am very good at. I've had plenty of time to prepare, to think about what I will express my gratitude for, and I still don't know what I will say. But I will only get better with practice: it's a discipline to nurture and not something we just have.
Thankfulness is also directed, it's not an abstract emotion, or something we can do on our own. We are thankful to someone for something. It is in the practice of being thankful that I am reminded of how I can be thankful, and to who the ultimate thanks go. I value my family and my friends, I appreciate my health and good fortune, and I am able to be thankful for these things because they were provided by God, who is the giver of life. The very act of giving thanks spurs me on to give more thanks –it's not a limited commodity like the plasma screens, because there is always more thanks to give.
As we go around the room on Sunday and my friends give thanks for things I wish I had said, there is no need for envy, I just get to echo their thanks, and give thanks to the Father who delights in giving gifts to His children.