There has been lively debate in the media over whether it is a good idea for stores to start their Black Friday sales on Thursday evening – if the consumerism mentality tarnishes the Thanksgiving holiday and Christmas Season. The question as to whether Black Friday tarnishes Thanksgiving and Christmas has become moot since it seems Black Friday has become its very own holiday. People anticipate it and faithfully observe it every year. Throughout the nation, people are absent from work in observance. Ads running on TV put lyrics about shopping to the tune of famous holiday jingles. The media, advertising industry and large retail stores speak of the day as if it were a major federal or religious holiday.
Many Americans have bought into the hype. Even economists and financiers join in the frenzy: Like prophets proclaiming gloom and doom, they give predictions to the financial success and failures. The message of the “Good News” of Black Friday: happiness is found in material goods – the more you have, the happier you’ll be.
We have to ask ourselves: What are the long-term effects of a culture that places its value in things and not on the value of the human person?
Pope Francis recently called consumerism a poison that threatens true happiness because it is based in empty promises. “[T]he true treasure is the love of God shared with our brethren. That love which comes from God and enables us to share it with one another and to help each other.” The illusion created by the culture of consumerism doesn’t lead to a happier society, but one of gluttony, lust, greed and spiritual poverty, where desires can never be fully satiated. Such an illusion diminishes the identity of the human person and defines him by what he has and not who he is.
Consider the words of Saint John Paul II in Centesimus annus:
It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards ‘having’ rather than ‘being,’ and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself. It is therefore necessary to create life-styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness, and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors, which determine consumer choices, savings, and investments.
Man’s dignity is not rooted in his temporal existence, but in where he has come from and where he is called to go. This calling is found in the Person of Jesus Christ, who fully reveals and brings to light man’s true calling. This revelation does not leave the human person simply dangling haphazardly in his temporal sphere. If man has no value outside his appetites or the temporal realities that surround him, then why would God become man and take on human flesh and die? Why the need for Redemption?
The debate over Black Friday is not merely about debasing Thanksgiving and the holy season of Christmas. The identity of the human person is at stake. The dignity of the human person stems not from what an individual produces or consumes but from one’s identity as a being made in the image and likeness of God. Through the love God has revealed in Jesus Christ, man becomes a new creature finding again the greatness, dignity and value that belong to his humanity. The dilemma is, will the human person enter into the life of Christ or not?
As our nation celebrates Thanksgiving, I invite us to pause and consider the underlying significance of the day — set aside “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” for His many blessings. Let us pray for our country, its people, its leaders and its future. Secondly, let us remember the many who have sacrificed to afford us the liberties we have; after all, freedom does not come without sacrifice. Thirdly, let us thank the Lord for the true gift of life afforded to us in Jesus Christ.