By Hugo MacDonald Nov 26, 2019
It was less than a decade ago that I first wrote about Black Friday.
It was then a US retail-phenomenon, making the day after Thanksgiving and the first day of Christmas shopping. It has subsequently spread around the world leading to several deaths, countless injuries and more headline-grabbing human stampedes than there are newspapers to put them in.
People have bemoaned the commercial takeover of any and every calendar celebration, regardless of culture or faith. But the rampant rise of Black Friday signals something deeper: the literal and metaphorical devaluing of giving presents. It is an opportunity to buy as much as we can (for ourselves and for others) for as little as possible. It's easy to take a moral high ground when it comes to greedy commerce ripping the heart out of innocent gift-giving. The truth is we are all complicit in the shift of regarding gifts as possessions more than gestures, and it's hard to know exactly where the blame lies.
"I don't want or need anything at all," is a common comment meant in kindness to save a prospective giver from the hassle or expense of needing to buy something. Despite best intentions, what it shows is our conflation of buying and owning with giving and receiving. It implies giving is a costly nuisance more than a gesture of care, friendship, love or support. "It's the thought that counts" more often refers to receiving something lacklustre than reminding one of the true gesture.
A few years ago my five-year-old nephew wrote a short Christmas wish list with just one request: "money." Amused and horrified in equal measure, I asked him if there wasn't anything a little more sentimental that he might enjoy opening. "I'd like money so I can buy everyone else presents," he replird blankly, breaking my cynical heart in the process. he was far from a saint at that age, and has since made up for his piety with a passion for expensive computer games, but his comment struck me because it suggested the act of giving is perhaps more innate than receiving. He hadn't yet been spoilt.
His comment struck me because it suggested the act of giving is perhaps more innate than receiving.
Happily, in tandem with Black Friday's contagion the backlash gets louder and it might just present the cure, too. Last year, one brand charged a premium and gave all the profit to charity. Giving and buying will always go hand-in-hand, but considering the value of the gesture rather than the transaction is something we'd do well to remember, whether giving or receiving.
Hugo MacDonald is a writer, editor and friend of &Open's.