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, ecologically 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.