On this “Black Friday”, let me save you from shopping hell with a few news articles on recent and upcoming holidays:
- Gettysburg Address 150th. Last week was the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Here’s what that address would have looked like had Lincoln used Powerpoint.
- Black Friday Bargains are not Bargains. A few days ago, I wrote about the protest against stores opening on Thanksgiving. I tried to make the point that the issue wasn’t stores being open (after all, many business are open on Thanksgiving), but the encroachment of Christmas (and particularly Christmas shopping) onto Thanksgiving. But is “Black Friday” really the bargain people think it is? The answer is… no. “Black Friday” is a hoax; despite all the “savings”, retail profits are actually higher during the holiday period. That’s right: stores have hoodwinked you into thinking you need to cram your shopping into the last weeks of the year; they then cram their stores with higher profit items and a few loss leaders to bring you in. This all reflects the other point I made in my post: the actual observance and meaning of all the fall and winter holidays has been usurped and coopted by big business, who see in the holidays not “cheer and goodwill” but a chance to make a profit. Stan Freberg was right.
- A Potlatch. An op-ed piece in the LA Times summarizes what has happened quite well: Christmas (and Chanukkah to a competing extent) have turned into a potlatch. A potlatch was a festival of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest during which the host distributed property and gifts as a way to demonstrate wealth, generosity and social standing. Guests would reciprocate at a later time with items that matched or exceeded the value of the original gifts, or risk being humiliated. The op-ed notes that the holidays have turned into times where “people continue to buy one another things just because they “have to get someone a gift,” even if it may be re-gifted, returned or never used. Our society’s barely restrained annual celebration of blatant commercialism approaches the seemingly needless exchanges and even destructiveness of the potlatch.” I particularly like the op-ed’s conclusion:
Let’s stop buying and giving things people don’t want and don’t need. If you feel a need to give, give food to the hungry, clothes and toys to those in need, or donations to victims of storms, violence or conflict. A plate of homemade cookies or some other delicacy delivered personally is a much better way to remember friends and family than a meaningless generic gift, a “dustable” to sit on the shelf or yet another ill-fitting sweater in the wrong color. And most older people need even fewer things. Unfortunately, what they really want — youth, vigor, health — are things we can’t give them. But they, and I’m sure many others, would appreciate a call, a card or a visit from family, neighbors and friends. So will you.
In closing, and related to this, let me share the lyrics to my favorite Christmas song — a song that you never hear on the airwaves, perhaps because of its “subversive” message. It was written by Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary, in 1963:
And it came to pass on a Christmas evening / While all the doors were shuttered tight. Outside standing, lonely boy-child / Cold and shivering in the night.
On the street, every window / Save but one, was gleaming bright. And to this window walked the boy-child / Peeking in saw, candle light.
Through other windows he had looked at turkeys; Ducks and geese, cherry pies. But through this window saw a grey-haired lady / Table bare and tears in her eyes
Into his coat reached the boy-child, Knowing well there was little there. He took from his pocket / His own Christmas dinner / A bit of cheese, some bread to share
His outstretched hands / Held the food and they trembled / As the door, it opened wide. Said he, Would you share with me Christmas dinner / Gently said she, Come inside
The grey-haired lady brought forth to the table / Glasses two and her last drop of wine. Said she, Here’s a toast to everyone’s Christmas / And especially, yours and mine
And it came to pass on that Christmas evening / While all the doors were shuttered tight / That in that town, the happiest Christmas / Was shared by candle light