Black Friday was truly black this year at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, NY where a store employee was trampled to death by a crowd of shoppers seeking bargains. Yes, that’s right--“trampled to death.” No, it’s not a scene in some ironic dark comedy; it’s all too real. Most Americans shook their head at the news and kept on shopping, but when shopping becomes a life-or-death prospect, we should all stop and reflect upon the state of our society.
It long ago became passé to bemoan the commercialization of Christmas. Charlie Brown did so in the sixties. I’m sure people made the same complaint before him. Some bishop in the time of Constantine probably complained about the commercialization of the holiday when Christians first started celebrating the birth of Jesus on the same day as a pagan festival. Yet, there is something different about the time we live in. Our nation’s economy depends upon consumer spending. No longer are we a nation that produces goods in order to sell them around the world. Now we are a nation that makes its money importing goods made elsewhere. When the demand for those goods dries up due to an economic downturn, people begin losing their jobs and retailers begin filing for bankruptcy. In other words, our own economic well-being depends upon us buying things whether we need them or not. I’m not saying that the mob outside the Wal-Mart on Long Island was motivated by their concerns over globalization, but our frenzied spending this time of year is driven by a culture that depends in large part upon motivating crowds of people to literally BUY into a mob mentality of consumption.
It is worth asking whether or not this type of consumption is an appropriate way to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ? I do not think that simply not buying anything for anyone is really a viable option for most people. Besides, giving gifts at Christmas is a fine tradition and an opportunity to show love and appreciation for others, as long as it is given responsibly in regards to one’s income and debts and lovingly rather than as an effort to impress or manipulate. Furthermore, many people around the world depend upon money spent at Christmastime for their livelihoods—from the store clerks to the delivery truck drivers to the factory workers around the world. It is not inherently wrong for any of these people to make money from purchases made in the right spirit, but what is the right spirit of buying at Christmastime???
An aid to us finding the right spirit of purchasing and giving at Christmas can be found, I believe, in the Lord’s Prayer we pray each Sunday. “Give us this day our daily bread.” It is a prayer for what we need rather than what lust for or covet, and it is a reminder that many people in our community and world cannot take for granted things like having enough to eat each day. Remembering this simple line of prayer can help us keep things in perspective and can help us ask the right questions before we buy.
Perhaps just as we offer a prayer of thanks before meals, we should also offer a prayer before shopping. Rachel Hope Anderson, a community activist in Boston, offers a prayer to help us shop in a way that is both just and grateful during this Christmas season:
May the food we eat feed those who farmed it. May the things we buy support those who fashioned and shipped and sold them. For everything we enjoy from your good earth, God, thank you.
I pray that what you and I purchase this Christmas will be bought from within our means and with a desire to care for others. I pray that what you and I purchase will provide a better life for the people who actually have a hand it getting it from the place of production to the store where we buy it. I pray that what and how much you consume this season would honor Christ more than yourself.
Grace and Peace,