Halloween is over, and in the United States, that means one thing: the holiday shopping season is underway. It will officially begin on Black Friday, which is only 24 hours after Thanksgiving, the day where most people profess to be thankful for what they have (while eating almost to the point of throwing up and then running a 5K to burn off the extra calories). In the span of a single day we go from being thankful for what we have to rushing out to shopping malls in an attempt to get the best deals, even if it means shoving and trampling other people. This represents a supreme irony. As if Black Friday wasn’t enough, now that the internet is a thing, there’s also Cyber Monday, commonly regarded as the biggest online shopping day of the year.
These events are only the beginning, and even then, in name only, because the holiday shopping season actually runs all the way until after the New Year’s Day. In recent years most retailers like Target and Walmart have offered holiday discounts and sold Christmas-themed merchandise starting as early as mid-to-late October in order to capitalize on a season that they feel is too short to profit from. Sadly, it seems that some view making money as the only reason for the season.
Christmas, contrary to popular belief, has never really been anything other than a Pagan holiday, according to History.com. It was originally celebrated by Europeans as kind of winter Solstice centuries before Jesus was even born, and Christians only much later adopted Dec. 25 as the “birthday” of Christ (he was actually born sometime in the spring). Eventually, around the late 1800s, Santa Claus came on the scene. Based on a Turkish monk named Saint Nicholas who traveled around helping the poor and sick, he evolved into a jolly, overweight old man who rides a sleigh with the help of his reindeer and defies physics by squeezing himself down chimneys. It was then that Christmas and gift-giving started to grow inextricably linked, and today there are thousands upon thousands of Christmas-themed products and materials, including Christmas trees, ornaments, cards, movies, songs, books, clothes, food, toys and more.
Most people by now are so used to this materialism that it doesn’t strike them as being in the least bit odd, but what other holiday has that much merchandise that is based off it? Sure, there’s Halloween candy, costumes and a few books and movies, and people buy firecrackers and barbecue supplies for the Fourth of July. However, these still pale in comparison to Christmas, which is basically the culmination of what we do all year round, just in smaller doses: buying, eating and drinking things we don’t really need at all, and only do so because retailers give us an excuse to. Think about it. Would you still own at least some of the things you own if there were no holiday shopping season? No, you wouldn’t, because your family and friends wouldn’t feel obligated to buy them for you in that case. And because research from Scientific American has shown that most of us aren’t very good at guessing what the people we know even want, let alone need, a significant percentage of gifts end up getting returned anyway, as reported by Fortune, which pretty much defeats the whole purpose.
Christmas (and many other holidays for that matter) is also an excuse to overeat and, for some, to get drunk, both of which are wasteful and unhealthy, especially given that a lot of people around the world are starving to death. But don’t most of those who are more fortunate donate to the needy around Thanksgiving and Christmas? Although people do tend to be more charitable around the holidays, they tend not to perpetuate that spirit of giving all year round, which is a shame, because the poor don’t just stop being poor once December is over.
All of this is to say nothing of the fact that, in our capitalistic society, the holidays can be a breeding ground for the abuse of retail workers, who are often forced to work overtime during the days surrounding Thanksgiving and Christmas (if not on the days themselves) when they should be spending time with loved ones. What’s more, in the mob rushes that take place during the Christmas season, shoppers and store employees alike have been injured and even trampled to death in past years, because some apparently care more about getting the last discounted toaster oven or flat-screen TV than respecting other human beings. The first recorded Black Friday-related death took place in 2008, according to The New York Times, when shoppers at Walmart rushed in the door and stomped all over a 34-year-old employee, causing him to suffocate. Since then, numerous other deaths and injuries have taken place, and although the chances of anyone getting harmed while Christmas shopping is still very slim, it just goes to show that the commercialization of Christmas has gone way too far.
So this Black Friday, and for that matter, all the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, take some time to reconsider going shopping, because chances are good that you and your loved ones already have all that you need, and if you don’t, you probably can’t afford to buy anything anyway.