Giving Thanks (to Materialism)

I was trying to figure out what to post today. I wanted to do something special for the holiday, and I thought of reposting something I put up on my old blog last year, then I wanted to do something more festive, like a short story, then I ran out of time and thought I’d just post a poem. And then, well, I ran out of time and inspiration for that, so I’m back to the old year-a-go post.

And I want to apologize, because it’s sort of depressing. It came from the frustration of being a retail worker (as I was then) in a big city (Nashville) in a mall that was planning to open its doors early for Black Friday, on Thanksgiving day. As someone who would have to work if they scheduled me, I was full of anxiety. Retail can be fun but incredibly hard. It’s enchanting to be surrounded with activity and sounds and colors (not to mention discounts!) But it can be exhausting to be on your feet for hours serving a variety of people who more often than not treat you like a fixture on the wall.

A job like that offers enormous perspective. Retail jobs run on materialism, on people wanting – more often than needing – the next new thing. It can be a fun diversion from everyday life, but it can be suffocating. It is so easy to get caught up in what’s new, what’s pretty, what you just have to get next. You forget simplicity. You forget community. You forget that money can’t buy happiness beyond the windowless walls of the shopping mall.

And that’s why something like Black Friday is so poisonously opposite to Thanksgiving. I’m not denying that it’s super fun to get good deals (I just got fabric for half off yesterday! Squeal!), but usually our motive behind the good deal is not to be thrifty or to really bless the people in our lives on Christmas. It’s about one-upping; keeping up with the Joneses, and all those other cliches we should be over with by now.

So, here’s my original post. It’s a bit rough (it was before I was a Writing major! Ha!) but I hope it offers food for thought. Not that we need anymore today! :o) Enjoy your Thanksgiving. Draw near to the people around you. And praise the Lord above, from Whom all blessings flow.

 I work at a retail store in a mall. It turns out that this mall (which will remain nameless) has decided to open for Black Friday early.

     At 8 PM on Thanksgiving Day.

     Other stores and shopping centers have made similar announcements (Including Macy’s, JCPenney, and Best Buy) as more and more of them opt to open their doors before Black Friday, offering their customers an early start on their Black Friday Christmas shopping. 

     This news makes me sad and angry and confused and frustrated … Is no day sacred? Out of 365 days in a year, can we not set aside one day to be thankful? Must we always be taking taking taking, always desiring to get more instead of looking around and saying “hey, we are pretty darn blessed”? Are we really even that thankful if we gobble down our Thanksgiving dinner (pun intended) in a rushed attempt to get to the store? 

     It’s bad enough that the holiday of Thanksgiving has been virtually eclipsed by the self-centered, commercialized holiday of Christmas (which isn’t supposed to be self centered in the first place, either). Now Thanksgiving is just another day to stockpile more stuff for our already spoiled selves. Instead of sitting down to a quiet family dinner, enjoying the food and the company of each other as we go around the table asking each other what we’re thankful for, will we now grab a bite to eat to go as we frenziedly check our smartphones and ask each other which store has the better sale? What kind of holiday is that? What kind of thanks-giving  is that?

     Someone I know said recently that “If people didn’t shop, the stores wouldn’t be open.” This is true. The problem is not that the CEOs of major retailers have decided to open their stores on Thanksgiving. The problem is that there are people who will shop in them. With their bellies still full from turkey and pumpkin pie they will push, shove and trample to be the first to get that latest electronic device or cashmere sweater or Superman action figure for half price. And more than likely, there are smiling, helpful employees waiting on them who have had to skip out on their own turkeys and pumpkin pies, who have had to skip out on family and loved ones because America could not contain its hunger for materialism. 

     Before you write me off as a bitter retail worker, please understand. I personally don’t have to work the Thanksgiving shift. That is something I am thankful for, not because I don’t love my job, but because the thought of the millions of people pouring into shopping centers on Thanksgiving Day makes me sick. I will be spending my Thanksgiving with my family. We will be eating turkey and mashed potatoes and green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. We will tell each other what we’re thankful for. We will read about or discuss the Pilgrims (remember those guys?), their harrowing journey across the Atlantic for the sake of freedom, and their day of celebration in thanksgiving to the God who kept them safe and alive. And then on Black Friday I will be in my store with a smile on my face, happy to help shoppers in any way I can. I don’t like crowds, but I can do shoppers on Black Friday. I have no problem with shopping on Black Friday. But on Thanksgiving? I take issue with that. I am offended by that. Are you?


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