Black Friday to Good Friday

Added about 8 years ago by Michael Sadgrove

Michael Sadgrove, in this guest blog, reflects on the annual pre-Christmas sport that is Black Friday

Image: Eric Pouhier (CC BY-SA)

In America it is Thanksgiving Day. It was one of the best ideas of the founding fathers of the fledgling state, to take a day each year to focus on gratitude for all that is lovely and good in life. To them of course, as deeply religious people, thankfulness was a spiritual attitude that belonged to the heart of Christian faith. But you don’t have to be a believer to practise gratitude. The gifts of life, family, home, friendship, our food and drink and all the material comforts we would otherwise take for granted—it’s important that we recognise them for what they are, say thank you, and think of those very many who are denied even the basics of a decent human existence. 

It’s hardly worth going back to work with the weekend hard on the heels of Thanksgiving, so what’s to do with Friday? The answer is obvious: go shopping of course! Christmas shopping on the last Friday of November sounds like a good idea. What better to follow Thanksgiving than to give the next day to self-denying altruism, buying gifts for others, thinking not of ourselves but of those we love and care for? Didn’t Jesus say that it’s more blessed to give than to receive?

Excellent in theory. The practice is rather different. “Black Friday” has now emerged as the nation’s Festival of Retail. Here in Britain, we have followed suit, though without the redeeming afterglow of Thanksgiving to provide a context. Department stores slash their prices as loss-leaders to entice customers into their shops. Billions of pounds change hands. People queue all night for discounted designer clothes, must-have electronic gear, expensive toys and high-end cosmetics. The press pounce gleefully on the free-for-all, capturing for all to see unlovely and unedifying images of normally rational people fighting over TV sets, game consoles, bottles of perfume and a thousand other trophies. It’s become an annual pre-Christmas sport.

Why is this day of shopping mayhem so called? Apparently it’s because of the traffic accidents and even violence that this concentrated shopping experience brought in its wake. The name Black Friday was coined by the Philadelphia Police Department as long ago as 1966. For them it meant one of the most demanding days in the year, not without its element of risk to those attempting to police vast crowds in traffic-thronged city-centres. Retailers, on the other hand, made a virtue of necessaity. Black, they said, meant profitable, productive, good for the bottom line, in contrast to the red of deficit.

This may be a case of Yuletide Bah Humbug but I find this concentration on acquisitiveness worrying. What does it say about our society’s values? I’m not saying that the crowds who cram into shopping malls won’t be buying for others. Who can say? But I don’t see Black Friday as contributing to a less encumbered lifestyle, shrinking the footprint, thinking of the millions in our world for whom Christmas will not bring tidings of comfort and joy. Still less does it point to the Infant in the manger, the emblem of the kind of simplicity we should be cultivating.

Black Friday inevitably reminds us of Good Friday, the day we remember the self-emptying of Jesus on the cross. But this year, Christmas Day also falls on a Friday, so there is another Friday to look forward to that is filled with the vision of goodness and generosity. In my recent book Christ in a Choppie Box, I have tried to explore these Christmas themes in the sermon that gave the book its name. In the mining communities of North East England, the “choppie box” is the feeding-trough pit ponies used to eat from, often underground. The crib at Durham Cathedral is inspired by the county’s mining traditions and displays the Christ Child lying in just such a miner’s choppie box with a pit pony standing by. It’s the antithesis of Black Friday. But very close to Thanksgiving. For the season ought to make us profoundly thankful for all that God gives us and the love with which he gives himself to his world. I’ve included sermons in the book on that theme too.

Let’s get Black Friday over with. Then let’s keep the radiance of Thanksgiving alive, and in that grateful spirit look forward to the Golden Friday of peace and goodwill that will this year be Christmas Day.

Michael Sadgrove was Dean of Durham from 2003 to 2015. During his 12 years at Durham Cathedral he has preached many well-crafted sermons on a wide variety of topics, from the Iraq invasions to “digital lambs”. Christ in a Choppie Box: Sermons from North East England is an edited collection of some of his finest and most thought-provoking sermons from his time in Durham. The foreword is by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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