23 November 2012
For as long as I can remember, people have complained about the crass commercialization of Christmas. During my childhood stores and towns started putting up Christmas decorations in early December. As time has passed, the decorations and the sales hype have begun earlier and earlier ~ right after Thanksgiving, right after Veterans Day, right after Halloween. Before long we'll be assailed by ho-ho-ho after Labor Day, then Memorial Day, Easter, Ground Hog's Day. Eventually the buying season will overlap itself, and a new psychosis will appear in the DSMV ~ Temporal Disorientation Disorder ("Wait, am I buying for this year, or for next year?")
Of course, it's not merely the gaudy visual decorations which grate on one's nerves, it's the pre-pre-pre-holiday sales themselves. In recent years the ritual commencement of buying frenzy, Black Friday, fell on the day after Thanksgiving. Like, early in the morning. Oh-Dark-Thirty. Long lines of shoppers arrived as early as the evening before, sleeping bags and thermoses of hot liquid at hand in the freezing darkness. Surreal ~ like cannibal tribesmen gathering for the boiling of the newest missionary, or like vultures circling a road kill carcass.
This year many big-box chains got a jump on things by starting their sales on the evening of Thanksgiving day, cutting into family time to rack up those profits. And people responded, grotesquely Pavlovian in their devotion to the Great American Pastime ~ shopping.
I don't get it. Two hundred years ago, most folks did their modest shopping on Christmas Eve. Me, I often plan ahead by picking gifts out in the spring and summer ~ not in response to any sale, but just because I'm casually browsing in a store or crafts fair, and see something I know a friend or relative would like. No pressure, no crowds.
Choosing gifts has become a mindless, visceral response to advertisements and peer pressure. The irony is that, according to Neil Irwin's analysis in the Washington Post, all the players (retailers, the media, and consumers) are reacting to the ever-tightening buying spiral, with no real forethought. One retailer decides to open his doors earlier than last year to get a jump on the competition, and others follow suit. The media, having little else to report on, broadcast the earlier shopping as though it were real news. And consumers, well, they let themselves get suckered into the cycle, lured by lower prices on a limited number of items, and regular prices on everything else.
Capping the irony, Irwin points out that the Black Friday sales frenzy (contrary to myth) has little correlation or predictive power on holiday sales overall, or the state of the economy as a whole. In fact, higher Black Friday sales tend to forecast a slightly poorer spending season.
So why go through the mania? Do your shopping months early at a time a place of your choosing, and then forget the crowds and stay home with your loved ones. Black Friday? Just say no.