Live Well, Do Good

Changing the Calendar, Changing the Culture

Brandon Sun, November 16, 2015 - David McConkey

Black Friday! Cyber Monday! What is going on with the changing November calendar? This is more than just renaming some days. This is about remaking the culture.

To start, what the heck is “Black Friday”? The fourth Thursday in November is American Thanksgiving; the next day is Black Friday. (This year, it is Nov. 27.) Black Friday kicks off the lucrative U.S. Christmas shopping season; the name often refers to retail businesses going into the “black.” Even though we Canadians have our Thanksgiving in October, Black Friday has invaded Canada as well, reshaping our calendar and our shopping patterns.
 
Black Friday spawned “Cyber Monday.” (This year: Nov. 30.) This is a two-part deal. Attention shoppers! First, check out retail offerings during the Black Friday weekend. Second, actually buy things on the Internet on Monday when you are back at work! At your workplace, take advantage of a more powerful computer, a faster Internet connection, and more leisure time. Great way to spend your money and your workday! Pssst: maybe don’t tell your boss!

Of course, people have been changing the calendar for centuries. The Christian church marked the birth of Jesus to coincide with the pagan celebration of the winter solstice. Christmas trees and lights, gift giving, carols, holly and mistletoe are among the holiday traditions from the pagans.

Thanksgiving reflects the meeting of immigrant and indigenous cultures. Traditional foods of Thanksgiving – like turkey, cranberry, potatoes, corn, squash, beans, sweet potato, and pumpkin – are all native to the Americas.

Holiday traditions continue to change. A generation ago, some churches were critical of the “commercialization” of Christmas. No more: now there is a unified corporate-religious front. There is even a theological term for this trend, the “Prosperity Gospel.” This theology has an appealing message to churchgoers: become more Christian by buying more stuff!

Churches will now boycott a store if it doesn’t have Christmas music and decorations or if clerks don’t say “Merry Christmas.” Anyone who dares question this consumption freak-out is vilified as waging a “War on Christmas.”

We could well be in for more Christmas political correctness, enforced – ironically – by Christian businessman Donald Trump. Last week the loud-mouth billionaire and presidential hopeful stormed into a tempest in a red coffee cup at Starbucks. “I guarantee if I become president, Trump says, “we're going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ at every store.”

And now both Black Friday and Christmas are creeping beyond one day, growing into weeks and months dedicated to shopping. There’s even less chance for an actual holiday relaxing with family and friends. With retail hours expanding, everyone is expected – all the time – to either be working in a store or shopping in one.
 
We are increasingly branded by what we buy. Corporations are not only inundating us with advertising, but also relentlessly tracking our behaviour. We are but cogs in a whole new corporate-driven zeitgeist. Technology historian George Dyson notes, “Facebook defines who we are, Amazon defines what we want, and Google defines what we think.”

Coming to our rescue at this time of year: three new days to challenge the corporate agenda. Three days to slow down and reflect on our roles as consumers and citizens.

The first is a radical alternative right on the big Black Friday: Buy Nothing Day. (This year: Nov. 27.) Instead of shopping: buy nothing! Started by the Canadian magazine Adbusters, this day is an invitation to consider how our shopping impacts ourselves and our world.

The second follows Black Friday: Small Business Saturday. (This year: Nov. 28.) This is a day to look at alternatives to shopping both at big box stores and distant online retailers. (The concept is promoted in Canada by the Yellow Pages company as “Shop the Neighbourhood.”) Take a day to discover local, small enterprise and brick-and-mortar places right in our own community.

The third follows Cyber Monday: Giving Tuesday. (This year: Dec. 1.) Here is a day inviting us to donate to charities and explore other ways to practise giving.   

We all count off the same 30 days in November and 31 days in December. But there is huge pressure from corporations to fit into their schedule. “War” is being waged on not just how we celebrate Christmas, but how we live our lives.

But we still have choices. Instead of being further manipulated, we can choose our own directions.

So, to everyone: have a happy (or merry) whatever day you are celebrating!

* * * 

See also:

Tomorrow, Buy Nothing

Reflecting on Consumption

Food and Thanksgiving

Solstice Cards

Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Stories

Learning to Step Lightly

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