I’m holding my breath that we can make it through the day without someone being trampled to death at Walmart. For many years now, it has been like a ritual sacrifice to the Gods of Consumption. The morning TV is in hog heaven covering “Black Friday Hyped and Hectic,” but so far no tragic Walmart reports. I’m just wondering if anyone else finds it odd that one day we’re gathered around the dinner table with our loved ones and the next day elbowing, pushing and shoving each other to be the first to grab Nintendo 55.
Facebook abounds with testimonies about Thanksgiving as the most lovely of holidays. The theme is family, friends and gratitude, things not often given airplay in our national discourse. Hallmark Cards has still mostly left it alone and the only presents expected is presence. I called it yesterday the most American of holidays, calling for Art Tatum on the i-Pod, eating native root vegetables, tossing a football and/or watching the game. It’s a holiday we can showcase to the world and be proud that we value spending a day cooking, visiting, taking time to play chess or board games and give thanks.
And then the next day? Black Friday. It’s as if the effort to simply enjoy a day without shopping is too much for our default setting of Buy! Buy! Buy! and we feel compelled to engage in rampant, franctic, hyped and hectic consumption. Is this the real American holiday? Is Thanksgiving an anomaly and the Walmart Trample our true National Dance?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist—or a social scientist—to understand that dollars has long been the centerpiece on the American table. Dickens observed this about us over 150 years ago (read Martin Chuzzlewit). And remember Bush’s advice immediately after 9/11? “Keep shopping,” Jesus must have had a prophetic vision of our American garages, basements and attics when he advised, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.”
So which is the true America? Or do these two days side-by-side symbolize the Jekkyl and Hyde of our strange personality? Regardless of who we have been, we can still choose who we want to become. Friends, my advice is to stay away from Walmart—today and every day. Remember that consumption was the old term for tuberculosis, a debilitating disease of the lungs. Consumptive people had fever, night sweats, chills, fatigue, trouble breathing— just like the folks dreaming of being the first in the Walmart parking lot early on Black Friday. Instead of driving to the Mall, walk in the woods. Breathe the fresh air of festive gathering. Keep gratitude at the center of your daily discourse.