Editor’s Note: At the Raven ReView, we are celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday by revisiting some of our favorite Thanksgiving articles from years past. We are thankful for all of our readers and we hope you had a joyful and blessed holiday. What would the Thanksgiving weekend be without Black Friday following on its heals? Perhaps more peaceful and less stressful. But then again, Adam Ericksen reminds us that beyond all of the mimetic frenzy, Black Friday represents devotion to family.
This article was first published on November 28, 2011.
The value of an object grows in proportion to the resistance met with in acquiring it. – Rene Girard, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, 295.
“Do you want to come with me?” She asked.
I replied with a question of my own. “Are you kidding me?”
My mother frequently invited me to go on her yearly Black Friday ritual. I thought she was crazy. She would wake up at 4:00 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving to cash in on the great deals at a store called Fred Meyer. “Freddie’s,” as we affectionately called it, is a West Coast superstore, kind of like a really nice Wal-Mart. Groceries, electronics, pharmaceuticals, clothing, toys – pretty much anything you could ever want you could find at Freddie’s.
My mother loved Freddie’s. Especially on Black Friday.
A trip to Freddie’s on Black Friday was her spiritual journey to Jerusalem. I anticipate that sounding extremely superficial to my readers. What could be worse than participating in one of capitalism’s most aggressively competitive days? As consumers compete with one another in acquiring objects, the objects perceived value grows as we bump elbows, play tug of war, and trample over one another. The news has reported in recent years on the mad crowds rushing into stores on the morning of Black Friday. The rush has a contagious element to it, as people feed off of the competition to find the best deals. Tragically, some people have been trampled and killed by the insane rush to purchase stuff. This was the first year that stores opened on Thursday night, enabling consumer competition and greed, and also leaving many in retail without a holiday. An ABC News article reports that a woman used pepper spray on Thanksgiving night to scatter a crowd from an Xbox display; that a group of thieves shot a man after he refused to give them his purchases; and two men fought over jewelry deals – one was arrested as he refused the police when they demanded that he leave the store.
The problem of greed is much bigger than stores. When purchasing an object has more value than another’s life, we have a serious problem with what the Bible calls idolatry. Our mimetic (or imitative) nature produces excessive devotion to material objects. Because we are mimetic, we imitate the desires of others. We see that a group of people are at an Xbox display, about to pounce on Xboxes like ravenous wolves. Seeing this only increases our desire to purchase an Xbox, and since stores have a limited supply, our desire increases. So, what is one to do? Pull out a bottle of pepper spray, of course.
Still, from my own experience, I don’t want to scapegoat all Black Friday shoppers. My mother died 10 years ago after a ten year battle with cancer. She was sick on her last Thanksgiving. But she woke up that Black Friday morning like she did every Black Friday morning. (Actually, I think she slept in a few hours and entered the doors of Freddie’s at 8:00 a.m.) She was on a mission to find a great deal on the only purchase that really mattered for her and her children. And she found it.
My mother’s main objective on Black Friday was to purchase socks. It was one of her major rituals of the year. But my mom had a sense of perspective about Black Friday. She knew it wasn’t really about socks or an Xbox. Her devotion on Black Friday symbolized her devotion to her family. And when you remember it’s about love for your family, you begin to perceive that others might just be shopping out of love for their family, too.
I know I opened some pretty expensive gifts on Christmas morning, but the present I remember unwrapping most were those socks. They were a constant. Whenever we would unwrap a bundle of socks, my siblings and I would hold them up in the air and yell, “WOO-HOO!” And as we expressed our joy, a smile emerged on my mother’s face.
You see, for me, Black Friday isn’t about the mimetic craziness and competition. It’s about a mother’s love and devotion to her family that was symbolized in the warmth of socks.
I miss those socks.