Statistically speaking, the Friday after American Thanksgiving is one of North America's biggest shopping days of the year. With Thanksgiving feasting behind them, I guess our Southern neighbours push away from the turkey table and head for the malls to get in on the huge Black Friday bargain sales that signal the start of Christmas shopping. The day has been dubbed "Black Friday" because for some companies, it's the day that they leave behind the red ink in their yearly ledgers.
It is also a black day because in recent years, people have been trampled to death in their attempts to be first to get to the bargains offered by some big box stores. Here's a sad but true video to show you a bit of the insanity, in case you've missed it. It doesn't actually show people being trampled, but it's definitely not humanity's proudest moment. Don't feel that you have to watch.
Of course, there is a much better way. In 1992, a Vancouver artist named Ted Dave decided to see what he could do to subvert consumerism. He made up posters and organized the first Buy Nothing Day to offer society a chance to examine the issue of over-consumption. Since then, it has become something of an event in many places, and was adopted by Adbusters, a not-for-profit, anti-consumerist foundation that engages in consciouness raising efforts. Their website used to post a page promoting Buy Nothing Day meet ups, where members creatively disrupt shopping activities in an effort to get people to think about their consumer habits (for example, Whirl-Mart: Participants silently steer their shopping carts around a shopping mall or store in a long, baffling conga line without putting anything in the carts or actually making any purchases. Just the idea makes me giggle!) The whole idea is to encourage people to "unshop, unspend and unwind" rather than get caught up in excessive consumption.
In Canada, Black Friday isn't a day-off during a long weekend, so the idea of starting Christmas shopping isn't very realistic for a lot of us. Canadian companies are trying to encourage Black Friday style shopping by offering special sales (I heard this morning that West Edmonton Mall, the local temple of opulence is trying to do Black Friday in a big way this week), but it has yet to really catch on.
Even so, I avoid shopping on Buy Nothing weekend simply because I love rebelling against the consumer machine. We just don't need a lot of stuff, and because we believe that excess just complicates life, our family celebrates Buy Nothing Day most days of the year. For the most part, we shop for what we need and call it good. And that's certainly better for us, for our planet, and for the rest of its inhabitants. If you think about it, a lot of the reason for Global Climate Change has to do with our obsession with the stuff we associate with "the good life," and the energy it takes to manufacture and transport that stuff all over the planet. But if I really want to have a good life, I need my planet to be healthy. And the fewer objects I have to clean, maintain, organize and repair, the more time I have to do what really makes me happy!
When my parents were small, Christmas was about family, friendship, food, drink, and celebration. Maybe they got a special surprise like a Christmas orange or a peppermint stick, but presents weren't the point of the celebrations. These days, it's really great to see that there are a lot of people trying to go back to that kind of Christmas. The Buy Nothing Christmas folks have put up a neat website to encourage simplicity rather than over-the-top, exhausting insanity that makes us all cranky and miserable right into the month of January when the bills arrive. I get a charge out of the Buy Nothing Christmas posters (that you can print off for free if you want to get people thinking).
Facing facts, we don't HAVE TO buy anything for Christmas. Presents aren't essential to celebration. But if you feel they are, why not give some "experiences" to your friends? A concert ticket, a canoe trip, a long walk, a basket of preserves, fair trade chocolate? A dinner out, with good conversation?
What are you doing on Buy Nothing Day this year? It's tempting to visit West Ed Mall and spread a few posters around... but I think I'll avoid that insanity, and just unwind instead.