Shopocalypse Now: Mormons and Buy Nothing Day?

A year ago, on the day after American Thanksgiving, I found myself in an English-style restaurant sharing a meal with a group of bloggers. After a lunch of deep-fried fish, potatoes, macaroni (?!!) and yes, one chocolate bar shared among many, we split up for the afternoon. Steve and Ronan went home to male-bond over some movies and Kristine and Elisabeth went to the Whitney Museum. Me? I was on walkabout. With a route planned out by Sumer that would take me from Chinatown to the Upper West Side, I was ready to experience Manhattan. But it soon became clear that small-town Canadian girl did not understand the culture. Why all the crazed shoppers? At home, the day after Thanksgiving was for lounging around and eating leftovers. It is a holiday and all the stores are closed. And what were all the signs for Black Friday about? Did it mean that everything black in the store was on sale?

As it turns out, the day after Thanksgiving in the United States is historically one of the busiest retail shopping days of the year, and is considered by many to be the “official” start of the Christmas holiday season. There are more circulars and advertising inserts promoting purchases for this specific day than any other day of the year, according to Media Week. Stores like Wal-Mart and Kmart open at 5AM and many stores stay open later than any other day of the year.

In response, the day after Thanksgiving has also become known as “Buy Nothing Day”, which is an informal day of protest against consumerism observed by social activists. Participants refrain from purchasing anything for 24 hours in a concentrated display of consumer power. The event is intended to raise awareness of what some see as the wasteful consumption habits of First World countries. Canadian Mennonites have endorsed it as a springboard to reviving the original meaning of Christmas giving.

In many ways, Buy Nothing Day has gathered a diversity of causes under one banner. It is now observed in 65 countries. BND has simulteneously become about protesting opulence, the corruption of Christmas, November_2006_jesus buy nothing2ecologically unsustainable products, corporatacracy, anti-Americanism, anti-establishment, pro-socialism, pro-Earth. Some find Buy Nothing Day empowering while others see it as unpatriotic. It has been written off as another form of “slactivism”, while still other critics of consumerism wonder why more Christians aren’t rallying behind the cause.

In my experience, most Mormons don’t like being told what causes to support and are wary of who they are getting into bed with, when they do engage in social action. Similarly, I’ve seen plenty of acrimonious debate in the bloggernacle about the uses, dangers and benefits of wealth. However, I can’t quite forget the words of Brigham Young, “The worst fear . . . I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church. . . . My greater fear . . . is that they cannot stand wealth.”

In the end, Buy Nothing Day is perhaps a complex cause but particularly after a day of feasting and excess, I can’t help but wonder if Mormons would do well to stay home, avoid the crowds and contemplate how to start the Christmas season in a different and less consumeristic way.


  1. I tried the whole get up at 4 am to wait in line thing once when I was a young mother and was up with my newborn anyway. It was fun to talk to the other people waiting in line, but there really wasn’t anything I wanted buy. So I refrain from participating in Black Friday shopping not for any moral reasons, but because it is a hassle and a waste of time. My frugal female in-laws see it as an early morning bonding time though, like waking up early to go fishing. They also love to get a good deal on things, so in their minds it is being a wise steward. I do think that using Thanksgiving evening as a time to plan out your next day’s shopping is not at all in the spirit of the holiday.

  2. I hadn’t heard about this; thank you.

    We’ll be setting up for Chistmas and playing as a family. Two years ago we started celebrating Boxing Day after an anniversary trip to Victoria, B.C. What fun it is to work together gatherering things for a trip to D.I., while making room for the new things we’ve given each other!

  3. Well I’m not quite a small town girl, but I am Canadian from Montreal.
    Last year was the first time I heard of Black Friday. My sil had a letter home from her dd’s school and they were going on an excursion to NYC. Black Friday??? I was scared, at first my mind was searching, like I had googled it trying to find a hit. I was wondering “did 911 happen on friday?” Was there some other tragedy’s anniversary? No, it’s a massive shopping day ironically the day after Thanksgiving. It screams so many “isms” that I don’t want to be part of it. I will celebrate, and I mean celebrate Buy Nothing Day.
    Those “isms”, particularly consummerism are insidious. I’m always trying to watch their hold in my life especially at this time of year. I want to continually teach my kids (17) (15) (12) to make concious decisions, to choose how they live and who/what leads them. At this time of year almost more than the rest of the year I try and go and get them to as many church activities as I can. Tonight at dinner it will be what we talk about. Actually this evening there is a RS acivity and I’ll be talking about it then too.

  4. Shopocalypse Now…Classic! I really don’t have anything against someone wanting to save some money on whatever they want to buy. But you are correct that it is the spectacle of it all – the celebration of consumerism that turns it into a Holiday (Holy Day?) in and of itself.

    I am a resolute on-line shopper, mostly because I can’t stomach malls and the like. Mostly though, I can’t see taking a moral stand on something that really boils down to taste. We are all rabid consumers, even if you have a smart car and wear recycled hemp clothing (perhaps even more so then). Who will cast the first stone?

  5. Julie M. Smith says:

    I can’t understand why people–especially people with small children–would shop in a store instead of online. I end up spending less money online, not to mention less hassle, not to mention not having to go to the post office.

  6. I’m not a shopper and I don’t like our consumer-oriented, commercialized culture (and it’s so bad in LA). I’ve never bothered to even think about going shopping on Black Friday. Except for this year. Staples has 400GB external hard drives for $99. You show me where I can get that kind of deal anywhere else. (Please. So I don’t have to go out on Friday.)

  7. In line… damn; I’m still only in line… Every time I think I’m gonna wake up back in the mall. When I was home after my first tour, it was worse. I’d wake up and there’d be nothing. I hardly said a word to my wife, until I said “yes” to a divorce. When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the mall. I’m here a week now… waiting for a sale… getting softer; every minute I stand in this line, I get weaker, and every minute Charlene squats behind the sales counter, she gets stronger. Each time I looked around, the line got in a little longer.

  8. a random John says:

    Susan M,

    You can get that kind of deal all the time…

    In the future!

  9. My company doesn’t give us Black Friday as a company holiday (we have Thanksgiving off, as well as other days, and then we have a free pool we can use for Black Friday, or any other day, in addition to our vacation time).

    My company also is very *wink wink* understanding about telecommuting (you work for one of the world’s largest IT companies, they tend to be that way).

    So, I tend to log into the VPN on Black Friday and pretend to do work. Anything we need to buy for Christmas was already bought online weeks ago, and we scoff at those who choose to shop on Friday.

    In recent years, my wife has gotten involved with a home-based business with ties to a major kitchen retailer. They have a kiosk at a local mall and she volunteers to man it on Black Friday while I watch the kiddos and obstensibly work. She said it’s simply amazing the idiocy that goes on at the malls on Black Friday — reasonably intelligent, well-off people buying absolute CRAP they don’t need — and paying high dollar to avoid shipping it (what, we’re still 4+ weeks away).

  10. I’ve seen horrors… horrors that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a deal-seeker. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that… but you have no right to judge me. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face… and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies. I remember when I was at the Super Mall. Seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a Virgin Records to buy music for the children. We left the camp after we had bought the children a Pinochio DVD, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn’t see. We went back there and they had come and marked down every DVD. There they were in a pile. A pile of little DVDs. And I remember… I… I… I cried. I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I realized… like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought: My God… the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we. Because they could stand that these were not monsters. These were men… trained cadres of price-cutters. These men who marked down prices with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love… but they had the strength… the strength… to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral… and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to mark down prices without feeling… without passion… without judgment… without judgment. Because it’s judgment that defeats us.

  11. A pile of little DVDs.


  12. Buy nothing day is just about every day of the year for me.

  13. I love the smell of commercial Christmas spirit on Black Friday morning. You know, one time we shopped a mall, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn’t find one widget left, not one stinkin’ widget. The smell, you know that smell of money, the whole mall. Smelled like… Christmas. Someday this holiday season’s gonna end…

  14. Ohhh- I like this idea! And I’m with Julie; I did almost all my Christmas shopping online this year- no lines, no hassle, no looking, no rude people, no hair pulling (I saw it once!)- I’ll never again hit the stores on Black Friday. No way, no way, no way.

    We are spending Friday cutting down our Christmas tree. And then staying home. Thanks for the post.

  15. I think we should add the insipid office Christmas party to the list of holiday events we should boycott.

  16. Anyone interested in Buy Nothing Day and such things should check out and read Kalle Lasn’s _Culture Jam_. I can’t wholly “buy” into it, but it’s a good wake-up call.

  17. It’s

  18. Buy nothing day is every Sunday for a mormon.

  19. As it turns out, the day after Thanksgiving in the United States is historically one of the busiest retail shopping days of the year

    Welcome to the 20th century! And here I thought that the US was the most culturally isolated country in the world–turns out Canada is!

  20. Peter, it’s actually the 21st century and in Canada shopping does not equal culture. :)

  21. #18 That’s what I’ve always thought.

    It seems a bit forlorn that those caught in the Sabbathless pursuit of success–or something that feels meaningful–would find stepping aside from commerce for one day a year to be revolutionary.

    It more illustrates their essential bondage, I think.

  22. Chuck McKinnon says:

    Buy Nothing Day always seemed to me proof that its organizers were sheltered upper-middle-class twits — like the kid in that brilliant Onion satire “Marxist Student Has Capitalist Parents.” Sundays aside, like Bill (#12) I have plenty of Buy Nothing Days, thanks.

    I first encountered BND in University and thought: “You have GOT to be KIDDING me!! These sheltered little twits have to set aside a particular DAY?!!”

  23. Huh. I guess I’m totally clueless. I’d never heard of BND until this post. I’ve also never shopped the day after Thanksgiving because I don’t like crowds. I had no idea I was part of a movement.

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