There are several of verses that put me in a critical mood when it comes to Black Friday and, to a lesser extent, Cyber Monday: Exodus 20:17, Luke 12:15, Psalm 37:21, and Proverbs 22:7, to name a few.
In the United States, these are days devoted to shopping for holiday presents—especially Christmas. Black Friday in particular is filled with unusual consumerist antics: waking up incredibly early to wait in line at the opening of stores to secure better prices and deals, folks getting trampled in the Christmas shopper rush, and so forth.
The temptations toward greed and covetousness are clear. What’s a pastor to make of this, particularly since both are expressly forbidden by the Decalogue and our Lord Himself? One priest quipped on social media that his posture toward Black Friday is akin to a Fundamentalist Baptist’s on Halloween, and I can see why. But if we are to object, let us do so intelligently, and with principles that guide us into practical wisdom.
While there are many good ways to go about this, and much great advice to share from the mind of the Church, I came up with three principles that help me survive the Christmas shopping craze and resist the pressures of consumerism.
1. Be a good steward.
One big step is to have a budget and keep to it. Include Christmas gifts and various holiday obligations (such as travel, hospitality, and charity) as an item in your year-long household budget. Regardless of how you set apart funds, stay within your means. If you have to choose between more or better gifts and covering the necessities for your family, choose the latter. This can be hard for those with generous spirits, who find joy in seeing their loved ones’ eyes light up when receiving a great present, but it’s not worth going into the red for. That would be irresponsible stewardship.
2. Attend to the liturgy.
When we use the “l” word, we’re often talking about how the Church orders her public worship. But, as James K. A. Smithand others have pointed out, there are many liturgies within our culture. One of the big liturgical events for consumerist America is Black Friday—it’s sort of a high feast day, where much is made around the participation and reception of a sacrament (in this case, buying and selling goods). What we Christians do publicly matters; what we participate in is of spiritual significance.
Does this mean we can’t buy presents for our loved ones or prepare for good feasting? Obviously not. But we need to be careful how we go about that—what our deeds and attitudes“say” to a watching world.
Don’t let consumerist culture dictate how you “redeem the time.” If you do anything, do it all the way, and that includes the church calendar. If you’re going to celebrate Christmas, it means you’re going to celebrate Advent, which takes place during most of the consumerist-Christmas glut: the office holiday parties, the peppermint-flavored everything, and even family reunions with their rich fare. But Advent is a penitential season (the giveaway is its liturgical color of purple). It’s a time of self-examination, repentance, charity, and fasting. Yes, fasting. Like Lent, Advent interrupts our diet. Each congregation might have its own policies for that. I am typically opposed to individualist “choose your own adventure” fasts since it tempts folks to talk about them, which is exactly what you’re not supposed to do (Matt. 6:16-18). Congregation-wide policies mitigate against boasting and showmanship.
This means “clashing calendars”—a cultural consumerist liturgy that conflicts with the Church’s. I challenge you to be different, going against the socio-cultural grain on this one. It is possible to be socially engaged, economically generous, and quietly faithful to your Advent disciplines. But not everything mainstream in December is against you. A big emphasis for penitential seasons is charity, particularly to the poor. Many communities and organizations ramp up charitable efforts during the Advent season. Invest your time, treasure, and talents in such endeavors. It is meet and right so to do.
On the flip side, Christmas is a 12-day season that only begins on the 25th. There are big feast days commemorating St. Stephen the Deacon, St. John the Evangelist, the Holy Innocents(martyred by Herod), and the Circumcision of Christ. And who could forget the Twelfth Night? I can attest that that’s a lot of celebration. Keep your festal powder dry!
3. Fulfill your Christian duties.
If you can get up in the dark before dawn for a sale, you can attend a vigil or candlelight service on Christmas Eve, as well as divine services on Christmas Day. Get the family involved—your household and your Church family. It helps to be vigilant and prepared like Simeon and Anna were in the Bible, but Christmas comes whether we’re ready or not, just as Christ comes whether we’re ready or not. All the prep work and planning pales in comparison to the gift of salvation wrought by the God made flesh. It’s truly wonderful. Rejoice!