The Shopping Dead or, Christmas and the Cult of Consumerism

IMG_0896The vast hordes pile against the defensive barriers the survivors have put in place. Yet, even the survivors know it’s only a matter of time before those barriers come down and the horde rushes in. The mass of lifeless, yet moving human bodies is intent on one thing and one thing alone; consumption. When the barriers come down they will burst forth, devouring everything in the path, giving no care to their surroundings and leaving nothing but devastation and destruction to all they touch.

To those worried, I am not giving a spoiler for The Walking Dead, rather I’m describing the upcoming Black Friday. To my non-American readers, “Black Friday” is the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, which marks the beginning of the Christmas season. During this day, millions of people line up at 4am to get into stores that open at 5am all to save some money on Christmas shopping. Imagine a mass stampede of animals, only a bit worse in that animals at least care about the rest of the herd. For those still unfamiliar, here is a video of what a Black Friday opening at a store can look like (and often does look like):

At the risk of sounding like Dale from The Walking Dead, we really are no better than zombies and, in many ways, are worse than zombies. Zombies (in their fictitious way) roam around and consume the living because that’s just their biological composition. They have no free will, they have no reasoning, they have no ability to rationalize what they are doing. They simply feed off whatever they can. The living, however, can rationalize. We know what we’re doing is wrong – or at least hold the capacity to know it is wrong – but we choose to do it anyway. In other words, the murderous hunger of a zombie is simply part of the zombie’s nature, but the gluttonous masses ought to know better.

Over consumption is a violation of Christian principles to begin with, but to do so during the Christmas season is simply blasphemous. Let the world do what the world wants, but Christians ought not participate. There’s nothing wrong in shopping for loved ones or even taking advantage of deals. There’s really nothing even wrong in shopping on Black Friday. But when the focus becomes the bargain, the sale, the material product, and not the Christ who came into the world, the Christian has destroyed all meaning to the Holy Day and his own faith. We demand that we put “Christ” back in “Christmas,” but where will He fit amongst all our toys and stampeding?

Perhaps we should focus on putting the mass back in Christmas before we attempt to insert anything else into the word. Any major mass within the historical Church (comprising of Orthodox and Roman Catholics who have a shared heritage and practice) typically comes with a feast. Pascha, or Easter, is possibly the greatest mass within the Church as it celebrates Christ’s resurrection from the dead and it too comes with a feast. Yet, most feasts are often preceded by a fast; in fact, the greater and more significant the feast, the greater and more significant the fast. For Christians who are to celebrate the coming of God into this world how much sense does it make to consume more than we typically would? What about rushing over your fellow humans to buy the next big thing (that you’ll stop using within a year) screams “God with us?” How can we appreciate the feast if we’ve yet to fast?

How can we claim to be for family values when we support consumer habits that devalue the family? While it might be nice to go and save 50% at 10pm on Thanksgiving Day, how nice is it for those who work there to provide this convenience for you? How can we claim to be pro-family, but then take advantage of business practices that keep families apart? I know of workers at Target, Walmart, and elsewhere who had to work from 9am to midnight on Thanksgiving and then turn around and be back at work from 2am to 6pm on Black Friday. Likewise, it is not as though they’re being well compensated for these endeavors; at one big-box store a gentleman lacked in his hygiene because he had to choose between paying the water or paying the electric bill.

In engaging and supporting these business practices, by shopping on Thanksgiving or stampeding on Friday morning, we become mindless consumers who roam around, destroy all life around us, and are dead (spiritually at least).

Now I know, we’ll see the various memes roaming around about soldiers who don’t get a day off, so how dare these workers complain about having to work on Thanksgiving. This, however, is sickening propaganda. Are we really going to argue that shopping is as valuable and as necessary as protecting one’s nation? Is the cashier’s job just as essential as the infantryman’s job? Yes, there are those that must work throughout all holidays because their jobs are essential for our society to keep running. Retail, however, is not one of those essential services.

What, then, should Christians and churches do today and throughout the holiday season? How can Christians rise above the Cult of Consumerism and begin to display Christ again? Here are just a few practical examples that I think we should start following:

  1. Stop participating in the mayhem. Absolutely refuse to shop on Thanksgiving. If companies didn’t make money from people being out on Thanksgiving then they would stop opening on those days. Realize that a cheaper product comes at the cost of your character, and character is something no amount of money can buy.
  2. Shop locally whenever possible. Local businesses are easier to influence than big box stores. They also tend to be more ethical and fair to their employees as well.
  3. Churches ought to help retail employees connect with their families during this time. Have dinners for these employees or offer them free daycare if possible. Do what you can to help them.
  4. Do some Christmas shopping for these employees. Many retail workers end up working 6-7 days a week during the Christmas season. They don’t get a Sabbath. Christians ought to help do the Christmas shopping for these employees so they can devote more time to being with their family when they’re not working.
  5. Be nice. Christmas time is incredibly rough for retail workers and other “non-skilled labor” workers. Many haven’t been home for Christmas or Thanksgiving in years because they’re not allowed to take time off. Add to it that they’re overworked during this season and deal with people who are stressed, meaning the employees get yelled at quite a bit. Just by being nice you will help quite a bit. Maybe offer to bring them back a coffee (if they’re allowed to even have a drink out) or something. The smallest gestures will have eternal ramifications.

Never forget that this is a season where we celebrate God coming to live among us sinful humans. Christ dwelt among us and we too are to allow Christ live within us. We are not to partake in the mindless horde consuming everything in their path, but rather we are to partake in the Giver of Life who became a servant to all mankind. If God can humble Himself to our form, if the immortal Word can take on mortal flesh, certainly we too can live incarnational lives during this season.