Black Friday

by Mark Hahn

Some people put out an empty place setting on Thanksgiving to symbolically honor those in their lives who have either died or cannot be present. Holidays stir up many emotions. Memories don’t always stir up good ones. Life is complex and reflection during the holidays sometimes brings back thoughts that are painful or sad. That empty plate can represent things that we never had or that were taken from us.

While it is known that the first Thanksgiving in America included natives, subsequent Thanksgivings were held in celebration of violence against them. In 1641, the churches declared a day of “thanksgiving” to celebrate the massacre of Pequot Indians in Connecticut. During the feasting that followed, decapitated heads of the victims were kicked through the streets of New York.

Thanksgiving is generally set aside for Christians to give thanks to their God for all He has given them in life. Commercial activity on this day is frowned on and seen as a lack of respect for Christian values. Malls and shopping centers are universally closed. Few businesses want to be branded as anti-Christian. Surprisingly, Walmart is one of the few exceptions.

As easy as it is to villainize Walmart for many things, I have to say I’m impressed by their daring in this regard. Bucking religious sentiment in the USA is risky business. On the other hand, Walmart does carry a full line of Christian books for those looking to buy them on Thanksgiving. Walmart gets away with a lot, but this may change.

Anyone following Facebook will have undoubtedly seen all the anti-Walmart propaganda being flung around in the lead up to Thanksgiving. Apparently, staying open and “forcing” employees to work on Thanksgiving is just too Un-American and Un-Christian to be tolerated. It isn’t just Christians leading the charge though, there are many liberal agnostics involved as well. It’s a little hypocritical to first protest Chic-fil-A for their Christian activism and then protest against Walmart for not respecting a Christian holiday — another form of Christian activism in my opinion.

There are well founded reasons to be against Walmart, its practices and the negative effect it has on our communities, but failing to respect a Christian holiday isn’t one of them. I see Walmart more as a symptom of the failure of American capitalism and not the underlying disease anyway. Watch South Park, Something Wall-Mart This Way Comes for a good take on this (and a good laugh).

Black Friday, an unofficial holiday in the United States, is the biggest shopping day of the year. After giving thanks, Americans are expected to celebrate by buying as much imported Chinese junk as possible in an effort to bolster the US economy. How this works, I don’t know, but it probably does more to increase US personal debt than anything else. At least the practice is a lot more palatable than kicking severed heads down the street.

American retailers generally make the bulk of their profits between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Black Friday was given its name because it is often the first day of the year that retailers start to turn a profit. Before this date, they are operating “in the red.” American companies are not charities. Their sole purpose is to generate profit. If they don’t make it “into the black” by the end of the year, they go out of business. People lose their jobs. Good intentions don’t count for much in a Capitalistic world.

My eleven year old son and I chose to celebrate Black Friday shooting photos together. We shot in the alley behind a local mega-mini-mall. This is the backside of capitalism. We found it a much more beautiful and meaningful way to spend our day together than standing in the frenzied lines of shoppers on the front side. There is nothing beautiful about Capitalism in action.