Presence for Presents

The Sunday Berkshire Eagle had loads of ads promoting Black Friday. The Lee Outlets proclaimed that their stores will open on Friday at 12:00 AM.

Given that our economy is organized around consumer spending, Black Friday’s importance impacts our economy by giving it a boost for the holiday shopping season.   Still, this idea to open as soon as Thanksgiving is over feels so wrong.

Growing up with family Thanksgiving dinners, we’d eat our meal.  Some would watch football on television.  Some would nap.  But mostly, we’d sit and talk.  The idea of racing off to the mall to shop right after the dishes were washed was completely foreign.

I know the retailers claim that they open because people want it.  People probably wouldn’t mind for them to give away their merchandise, too, but I don’t see that happening.  So, while consumers may want it, retailers don’t cave completely to the public’s desires.  Opening is their choice.

There are two sides to this.  The consumers may be very excited to go shopping and find great deals.  Indeed, I can almost imagine some dinner conversations about the price that such and such store has on flat screen televisions for the first shoppers.  But what about the people who work that midnight hour?

Think about it.  The people who are there to serve the public at midnight probably had to arrive an hour or so earlier to get ready.  That they would be up until perhaps daybreak meant that they might have to take a nap earlier in the day, which could make their dinner schedule a little crazy.  I also imagine that given the crowd’s frenzy, their tension might increase as the hour to go to work approaches, too.

It’s actually pretty manipulative.  The deep discounts give the impression of scarcity and combined with our culture’s emphasis on materialism, it’s pretty tempting to be among the first in line, regardless of the hour.

It’s not right.  We hear about the loss of family values.  We already know that schedules often disrupt family dinners during the week.  (Studies have also shown that family dinners, the nightly ones amidst work and sports practice and music rehearsals, have an overall positive impact on the children and the parents.)  Couldn’t people have one day when they can be together without worrying about heading off to work at some insane hour or not have to fret over being early enough to snag that television set?

In ministry we often talk about the gift of presence.  Sometimes parishioners come to us with really difficult problems.  We can’t solve them, but we can listen.  Taking time to listen and be present in the moment for that person can be huge – a real gift.

I’m not saying that we have to bring our burdens to Thanksgiving dinner and dump them on everyone.  The simple act of being together, however, is the gift of presence.  That gift is far more valuable in the end than the discounts we can get in the wee hours of Black Friday.

Stay home.  Spend time with your family and friends.  Go to sleep at a decent hour.  There will be enough time from Black Friday through Christmas to shop.  Your best gift to your family and friends is simply being present.


About Quentin Chin

Eclectic interests: religion, technology, food, music, current events. I live in the reality-based world.
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