By / Nov 23

“Black Friday has gotten out of hand,” said Jerry Stritzke, president and CEO of outdoor retailer REI, referring to the day after Thanksgiving when retailers heavily discount thousands of products. He told his 12,000 employees to “get outside” on a paid holiday instead of “spending it in the aisles.” “We’re closing our doors,” Stritzke declared, because “success goes beyond money.” Should it define our holiday, too?

America shops with the same gusto it downs turkey. Last year, the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, which includes Black Friday, saw sales of $51 billion. Retailers can earn up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during this holiday season. And while Black Friday is a decidedly American invention, other countries are adopting similar retailing rituals. China’s Alibaba recently announced a Singles Day in November, raking in $1 billion in its first eight minutes of sales.

Black Friday is a fairly recent holiday. Philadelphia policemen in the early 1960s were the first to use the term to describe the post-holiday crush. Yet, even as late as 2001, Black Friday never reached more than the fifth spot on the list of America’s busiest shopping days. But by then, the day’s brand was fast becoming reality, reinforced by the media covering long lines and desperate shoppers.

Evangelical Christians are not immune to standing outside in the cold, pre-dawn hours. But a holiday for consumerism can seem to blur virtue with vice. Indeed, there is much to be celebrated in its ritual and giving, but also many snares and misplaced priorities. Christians should find two hopes and two warnings in Black Friday.

Two benefits of Black Friday

1. Black Friday is a holiday, and holidays are rituals in remembrance. These are the times when we set aside our normal routine to celebrate or commemorate a moment of significance. Our holidays are like the stones of Joshua, set by the River Jordan as a steady reminder of God’s providence amid the passing seasons.

But Black Friday is in no ordinary season. It is a time when Christians celebrate the greatest gift ever given: God’s son, Jesus, born in a manger. The Magi, upon seeing the baby, fell on their knees and worshiped him; “they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” We remember God’s greatest gift through our giving, doing as the wise men did. The heated cars and cold lines of Black Friday, the wrapping and unwrapping of Christmas—these are our rituals to remember what we have received.

2. Black Friday initiates giving, and in so doing we humble the almighty dollar in love. Money is a blessing from God. All too often, though, we are tempted to make money our master. This cannot be true for us as Christians. Rather, as 1 Timothy 6:18 describes, we are “to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share.” Black Friday sets off a holiday season marked by charity. “Black Friday may have its warts,” Chris Horst reminds us, “but let’s not forget the reason for the Black Friday season.” The shopping isn’t meant for us, but for others. Done rightly, Black Friday spurs us on toward love and generosity.

Two warnings about Black Friday

1. Black Friday harbors disordered loves—snares on the path to the register that lead to emptiness. We live to love, and what we love determines how we live. Discerning our responsibility toward created things and loving them rightly is a central challenge in life. Seeking satisfaction in what cannot satisfy is to fail in this moral quest. Rightly ordered love is virtue; disordered love is vice.

Our problem isn’t that we love shopping on Black Friday, but that we are tempted to love shopping in the wrong way—that is, to make us happy. Finite things cannot satisfy the human desire for the infinite.

2. Black Friday is a religious holiday for consumerism, a time of communal worship observed at the mall. For many families, this shopping holiday is a major tradition and a time of social bonding on the order of church or, in the case of some, a military squad. In the jostling crowds, there’s almost a religious fervor. Shoppers are armed with a worldview centered on acquiring more and more things for the self’s own good. “I shop, therefore I am.” Our sacrament is the credit card swipe.

These secular pieties offer uplift, but they also impact our real worship and families. Indeed, as shoppers arrive earlier and earlier on the day after Thanksgiving, retail workers are being stolen away from their tables to feed our own desires. Christians should approach with caution those things that offer a false hope.

What are Christians to do? Celebrate Black Friday as a joyous ritual of communal generosity. We can be happy and loving in our buying and giving because we know they are not the ends. Our hope isn’t found at the bottom of a shopping bag. The value of our souls far exceeds the value of any created things.

Black Friday without Christ is little more than vanity. What does a man gain for all his efforts, otherwise? When you step away from your Thanksgiving table and prepare for a day of shopping, remember how God has so generously gifted you. Orient your buying toward others. Love them rightly as Christ loves you, shopping in wisdom and humility on Black Friday.

Note: The views expressed here are his own. 

By / Nov 26

My husband and I like traditions. Part of it is owing to my own family’s love for all things familiar, but the other part is that we just enjoy doing fun things together. We like to celebrate, and like many Americans, we like Black Friday.

Yes, that is correct. We are some of the many crazy people who venture out on the biggest shopping day of the year. We scour the newspaper ads the day before, while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We make our list and check it twice. And we love every minute of it. Before we had kids, we even got up at hours of the morning that no one should be awake just to find a deal. Now we wait until our kids get up to face the crowds (although my husband is not opposed to going out by himself in the wee hours of the morning). But we still are avid Black Friday shoppers.

If we are honest, some of our enthusiasm over Black Friday is owing to our interest in seeing what craziness is out there (or in my husband’s case, his love for a good deal). But the biggest reason we endure the crowds and the crazy is because there is nothing like being able to finish your Christmas shopping before December even arrives.

Avoid Black Friday?

There are many reasons Christians might avoid Black Friday shopping. Perhaps the most compelling one is the rampant consumerism that seems to dominate all things Christmas in our culture. Black Friday has turned into Black Thursday, Black Wednesday, and Black All Night Long. Some even boycott stores that stay open on Thanksgiving, in protest of the perceived greed that drives many retail stores to forego the Thanksgiving break and get right into the Christmas spirit.

And I’m with them on the problems of greed and consumerism. As Christians, we know that Christmas is about so much more than getting everything on our wish list, getting the best deal, and fighting with another customer for the last toy on the shelf. The Christ of Christmas puts to death the greed and consumerism that so easily entangles us this time of year.

Embrace Black Friday?

But as one who enjoys partaking in a little Black Friday shopping, I hope to offer a different way to think about this day that doesn’t involve boycotting, fighting for toys, or coveting what we cannot have or cannot afford.

Black Friday shopping can be a form of good stewardship. While my husband loves getting a good deal, his purpose in seeking deals is not for bargain’s sake. He wants to steward our money well. He knows we have been given a set amount of resources, and he wants to multiply those resources in a way that honors God and serves others. Black Friday shopping can serve this purpose as well.

Perhaps getting all of your shopping done early enables you to truly focus on the Christ of Christmas, this is good stewardship of time. Perhaps saving a few dollars on your Christmas presents affords you the opportunity to give extra to a missions organization or a friend in need. This also is good stewardship of your finances.

Black Friday shopping can be a way to love your neighbor. Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39, Mark 12:31). Nowhere do we see overt self-love like we do on Black Friday. But, as Christians, we have the Holy Spirit, who enables us to respond differently to the frenetic pace of the holiday season. Black Friday gives us the opportunity to love our neighbor by treating those around us differently. When the pressure rises to fight for a new gaming console or push someone aside in frustration, we can die to our own selfish desires for the next big shiny thing. We can treat our neighbors like we would want to be treated, with love, kindness, and patience.

But we also can love our neighbor in a less obvious way this Black Friday. We can love our neighbor by buying stuff. Boycotting stores for their holiday practices only hurts the men and women at the checkout counter—the very ones who need jobs the most this Christmas. By heading out to stores with open wallets, we can love the workers by keeping them in business.

Black Friday shopping can encourage a healthy spirit of giving. All of us have been given an abundance from our heavenly Father. He delights in giving good gifts to his children (Matt. 7:11). He lavishes his kindness on us in Christ (Eph. 1:7-9). As image bearers, we get to experience a small (and broken) taste of this joy when we also give gifts to those we love (2 Cor. 9:7). Because Black Friday can be a day of stewardship for Christians, it also can be a day where we have the resources to buy the gift our loved one so desperately wants or needs.

Black Friday shopping doesn’t have to be all about greed and consumerism. It doesn’t have to be about excessive spending and fights with people over the last flat screen television. It can be a time for Christians to live differently than the world around them—to be in the world and not of it. And on a day that is so often overshadowed by the sins that so easily entangle all of us, that could be good news this holiday season.