By Roger Barbee
Last week, my wife told me of how a national box store was planning to begin Black Friday at 8 p.m. today, Thanksgiving night. It seems by deeming that earlier is better, the CEO of this large retailer has tossed the order of our days, thus Friday is no longer Friday, but Thursday. All of this because someone somewhere in an office has realized that shoppers will forsake a secular, but important holiday in my eyes, in order to "get a deal" on some gadget. Thus, the Christmas season begins.
Interested, I pulled up the website of the retailer and read reasons for beginning Friday on Thursday. My interest in this phenomenon of modern retailing became keener as I read more, and I called the local retailer out near Interstate 81 and spoke with a polite manager. She explained that the retailer's family (employees) wanted to satisfy their family (customers) and make them happy. In order to do this, they (the store family) would begin huge savings for stuff on Thursday night at 8 p.m. I asked about the employee's blood families and it being Thanksgiving Day, but she assured me that coming in on the holiday was strictly voluntary. No store family member was being forced to come in on that night.
In the past few days, I have pondered that conversation and what I read on the store's website. Yesterday in Sunday school, we had a thoughtful discussion about Thanksgiving, but on the way home, Mary Ann put it all into focus. As we drove down U.S. 11, we were reviewing the class discussion, and she observed, "I think we forget the second part of that word." I asked what she meant, and she said, "Why, the giving part, that's what." Hmmp, I thought, thanks giving.
Even I, not a shopper, know the importance of Black Friday to retailers, and I appreciate their need to sell products. However, two weeks ago I saw the Christmas display in a Woodstock drug store. The candy and masks from that other time had barely enough time to be removed, and the wrapping was wedged next to Pilgrims and turkeys.
It seems to this observer that greed has taken over authenticity. The retailers say that the consumer wants the best deals, so earlier is better than later. It seems that we think that everything has to be done this instant, and if we do not shop now, then we will miss out on some gift that Uncle Tom must have. Like the retailer, we have become greedy and the cycle continues. Yet, is any of this frenzy authentic?
As a boy growing up in the 1950s in North Carolina, I knew the stink of poverty. We had no indoor plumbing until I was a 12-year-old, and not much food.
At Christmas, our church gave us food and some relatives would bring us fruit and nuts. It is the thin-skinned, small oranges I most remember because my siblings and I would eat so many our lips would crack and become tender from the acid.
While good, the nuts that came in the No. 2 brown paper bags were impossible for small hands to crack open, so they mostly wasted away. I share this to let you know that I value the importance of this time we are entering. But, I think we have forgotten the giving part of it all and have focused on the getting part. If we are not obsessed with getting, then why do so many of us stand in lines to get a gadget at a sale price? Is the rationale that Uncle Tom will really like it authentic?
The many reasons that all of us in the valley have to celebrate Thanksgiving with blood family are authentic, as is the man's birth that we will soon celebrate. In this time and all times of our year, let us give to each other, and not forget that folks in need will have needs in the spring, summer, and fall. The stench of poverty is, sadly, a year-round odor, but one that we could eliminate with community focus. Think about making it all authentic.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.