24 November, 2014

A Distributist Christmas

I know that Advent has not yet started, but I wanted to share this at a relevant time. Americans have developed some strange customs over the years, but the one later this week is one of the strangest. I am not referring to Thanksgiving, but to what has become our annual celebration of greed and inhumanity. I am referring to Black Friday.

The name, Black Friday, originated from the colors of ink used in accounting ledgers. Red represents debts and other liabilities and black represents income, assets, and overall profit. It is an unfortunate fact that our economy runs on debt. Many businesses struggle throughout the year hoping to stay only moderately "in the red." The post-Thanksgiving Christmas sales mark the time when their balance sheets went into the black - Black Friday.

In recent years, Black Friday has come to mean much more than a return to running a profit. Not only do retailers prepare for volumes of shoppers that far exceed the fire codes, police and emergency workers prepare for increased volumes of calls reporting assaults, robberies, and injuries involving these shoppers. The irony of people going into an animal frenzy without regard to the well being of those around them the day after we pause to thank God for the blessings we have is lost on far too many of us. What is worse is that, in an effort to make sure they are the ones who get your money, some big retailers are starting their sales on Thanksgiving itself, rather than waiting until the next day. At first, even these held off until after the traditional meal time was over, but some are now starting their sales during that time. I would like to echo a proposal that has been making the rounds on the internet.

Don't be a part of it.

I am not necessarily saying that you don't go out shopping on Black Friday, but don't be a part of the frenzied mob. Be more discerning about where you shop and what you buy. Instead of giving your business to the big chain store that underpays its employees to sell you products made by virtual slave labor in other countries, give your business to the independent small businesses in your area. Shop where you can get products made by local providers. Locally owned businesses like bakers, spa owners, independent coffee shops and restaurants might offer gift certificates that would be welcomed by your family and friends. Local craftsmen can provide jewelry and other products that will be greatly enjoyed. Give someone a night at a local Bed & Breakfast. Many communities have organizations that promote locally owned businesses that can help you find things they would enjoy.

This can also be applied to Cyber Monday, the Monday after Black Friday, when the online stores have decided to try and get those customers whom they missed three days earlier. Do your online shopping from local or other independent small businesses. You might be surprised what you can find. Book sellers carry titles your family and friends want to read. Independent film makers offer a great alternative that many of them would otherwise miss.

There are two advantages to doing this. First, giving your business to local shops keeps the most money in your local economy, helps to keep those shops in business, and boosts the local economy. Second, when shopping online, your conscious decision to give your business to a small independent provider fosters the best kind of trade between your local community and theirs. In both cases, you are helping these small shops to stay in business, which keeps their local people working and helps their community to be more economically independent.

Finally, keep in mind that it isn't about what you get, or even about what you give. Whether you are commemorating the birth of the Messiah, the re-dedication of the Temple, or some other thing, the season is about something far greater than the crass commercialism it is marketed to be.

Merry Christmas!

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