It’s Black Friday, 2012. I was asked yesterday why it’s called “Black Friday” with the suggestion that such an ominous-sounding name seemed incongruous with the commercial aspirations of the day. Back before it was known to the public, store owners and manufacturers used to use this term; for many of them, the day after Thanksgiving, being the unofficial beginning of the Christmas shopping season, marked the day their business would move “out of the red” (in other words, show a profit) for the year. The term was seized upon by the mega-big-box retailers like Walmart as a marketing gimmick, inverting its meaning to apply to the customers rather than the business owners.
In any case, it’s Black Friday, and here I sit in my cozy robe and slippers, writing this instead of engaging in fisticuffs over a flatscreen TV at Best Buy; what gives? Isn’t Blue Collar, Black Tie all about saving money?
In a word, nope. We’re all about experiences. Saving money is nice, but it’s not an end in itself. Saving money and looking for bargains is what you have to do in order to afford the experiences and build the memories that you want to have. Trust me, 10 years from now, your family and friends will remember the time spent together on the holidays far more than they will the great deal you got on the game console you gave them.
Getting new gadgets at 40% off is great if you can do it comfortably, but there’s not enough of a discount to get me to leave my Thanksgiving dinner and family to spend the night sitting in a lawnchair waiting for a store to open. That is not an experience or a memory that I will cherish for years to come, so I’m not going to do it.
Besides, let’s be honest; of all those people sleeping in tents on Thanksgiving day instead of being home with their loved ones, once they get inside the door and start grabbing “doorbuster” items on sale, what are the odds that those items they fought for are going to be gifts for anyone but themselves? Sure, they’ll pick up a lot of stuff for other people while they’re there, but very few people are going to spend two days outside a store to buy somebody else a $187 laptop. The relentless advertising message of Black Friday, from start to finish, is targeted at the consumer to buy things for themselves under the excuse of going Christmas shopping.
But think for a moment; instead of spending the night and day fighting crowds, getting exhausted, spending a lot more than you hoped and reinforcing a hatred of your fellow man, why not hang your Christmas lights, or watch a holiday movie with your kids, or just lie around in your pajamas enjoying a day off? Why put yourself through the ordeal of Black Friday if you don’t have to? And in case you were wondering, you don’t have to. As my friend James Owen said, “money is replaceable; time is not.” (By the way, James’ book series, The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica, makes an ideal gift for any young fantasy readers of your acquaintance. Just sayin’.)
While driving home recently, I heard a radio commercial for some peddler of Things You Don’t Need in which the tag-line was “this is how to gift.” My first thought was “since when is ‘gift’ a verb?” After a moment’s thought, I understood what was being said: giving and gifting are not the same thing. When you think carefully about a person you care about, considering their tastes and desires, and carefully choose an item you think they would like, and present it to them because you want them to have it, that’s called giving. When you look around the store for an item you can buy for somebody because you are obligated to do so, and your primary focus is to spend as little as possible while still meeting your obligation (and ideally finding an object that looks about as expensive as whatever they’re likely to give you while actually being cheaper), this tedious chore is called gifting.
We’ll do our part to avoid the vulgar practice of gifting; as we’ve done in the past, we’ll be making some of our Christmas gifts, we’ll be shopping at interesting little boutiques like Ten Thousand Villages and independent shops like Comics Factory or Meowmeowz or Gallery Nucleus, and we’ll focus a lot more on our family and friends, the time together, the fun and meals and experiences and enjoyment of each others’ company, and a whole lot less on the pile of stuff and exchange of merchandise. We urge you to do the same, this year and every year.
Don’t gift. Give.