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Christmas Consumerism: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The first official day of winter is Sunday, December 21st. But for me, it was always the day after Thanksgiving, the day known as Black Friday. It’s the day my two favorite holidays collide. It’s the day my family starts playing Christmas music and putting up the decorations for Christmas. It’s the day that our thankfulness for God’s provision in our lives turns into thankfulness for God’s provision for the entire world.

Black Friday is also an incredible and exciting demonstration of market power. EVERYTHING you could possibly imagine is suddenly for sale—and on sale. As a consumer I love it because I can do some last-minute winter shopping that otherwise would have been impossible on my budget. Moreover, this one day could possibly be the most important boost for the businesses you love and rely on throughout the year. Even as an hourly employee, the day felt festive and I looked forward to making some extra cash.

But there is an ugly side too. Consumerism is rampant, and it’s kind of sad and more than a little ironic that people are rushing out to take advantage of the latest sales right after we spend a day being intentionally thankful for what we already have!

So, if I love the market but hate the mentality of consumerism, how do I handle Black Friday and Christmas season consumerism?

Black Friday Is No Excuse to Condemn the Market

The first thing we need to do is recognize the fact that there are both positives and negatives to the holiday shopping season. Secondly, we must dig down below what we see or how we feel about the season. We should be sensitive to what is actually causing the positives and negatives around us.

[pq]The market isn’t the problem with the holidays; it’s our mindset.[/pq]

I’ve already mentioned the positives of Black Friday and the subsequent mad rush on the market: It’s a huge boost to businesses and the economy, consumers can get the things they need at an affordable price, and it’s a great time for employees looking to make some extra cash or make ends meet for their families. Without the mechanism of the market—without some amount of consumerism, we wouldn’t be enjoying any of this or even debating the merits of consumerism. Our society would be far less prosperous.

I certainly don’t want this to be a happy-go-lucky endorsement for the market, however. I don’t like it when my friends start gathering outside stores at 5:00 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving, and it’s saddening to hear about how people disregard each other in an attempt to be first in line to grab something off the shelves.

But here’s where it is helpful to remember what is causing these problems. It’s not the market’s fault. It’s the fault of several thousand individuals who choose to value a few discounts over everything else.

With that in mind, I’m going to submit that critiquing or regulating the market will not solve many problems. Paying close attention to our hearts and our actions will.

Just Because Its Legal Doesn’t Mean It’s Right

Values are necessary for the market system to work. While we don’t want top-down regulation, we can’t just blindly follow the lead of the market. After all, economics exists to explain human preference. The market makes nearly everything possible; it does not make those same things permissible.

Appreciating the market for what it is without abusing it or withdrawing from it is an individual choice—one that has the potential to set an important example for other individuals and for society. Here are some practices that are helpful for me:

1. Focusing on family and giving thanks on Thanksgiving Day. For me, it is helpful to move to another room and continuing conversation to avoid being bombarded by commercials when the football enthusiasts of my family turn on the TV. (Meanwhile, the football lovers in my family enjoy actually watching the game together and don’t get distracted by the commercials, and that’s great!)

2. Refusing to get up early and wait in line for Black Friday sales. I prefer to shop in the suburbs rather than the city because the stores are typically less busy.

3. Giving one small but meaningful gift to each member of my family and keeping it at that.

4. Setting aside time every day during the holiday season to focus on what I am grateful for and to ponder God’s means of redeeming and restoring our world.

These habits help me avoid the consumeristic mindset of the holidays, but the list will look different for everyone—parents, salespeople, managers, etc. The point is to remember that the market isn’t the problem with the holidays; it’s the mindset.

If we remember our values, set our boundaries wisely, and treat other people (whether they are family members, cashiers, or people in line at the checkout) with the dignity and respect they deserve as individuals, we will do more to combat the negative side of Christmas consumerism than any condemnation or regulation of the market ever could.