The Blackest of Fridays

Last year my wife asked me if I wanted to get up with her and her brother and his wife at 3:30am on Black Friday to go shopping. I am not a shopping fan. I am not a get-up-early fan. I am certainly not a put-your-life-on-the-line-at-WalMart-for-a-flatscreen-you-can’t-afford fan.

So why did I go?

My choices were to get up early and go shopping, or stay home with the 7 grandchildren who were present. Both entailed a pre-6am wake-up call, trying to organize an unruly mob, and dealing with a lot of crap. Only the shopping option provided for the possibility for more sleep (albeit in the car) later in the morning. So, in direct conflict with everything I hold dear, I went shopping early on Black Friday morning.

* * * * *

This was exactly one year after someone died a shopping-related death on Black Friday in New York:

“Black Friday took a grim turn when a New York Wal-Mart employee died after bargain hunters broke down the doors to the store, pushing him to the ground. The 34-year-old male employee was pronounced dead an hour after shoppers breached the doors to the shopping center in Valley Stream, Long Island, about 5 a.m. Friday and knocked him down, police said.

“He was bum-rushed by 200 people,” Jimmy Overby, the man’s 43-year-old co-worker, told the New York Daily News. “They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me. They took me down too … I literally had to fight people off my back.”

* * * * *

One year later, on the morning I went shopping at 4am, things were much more orderly. The lines of people outside the WalMart were kept in a maze of iron stanchions. It felt very much like waiting for a ride at Disney World, without the fun and joy.

Once inside the store, chaos reigned. I just tried to stay out of the way.

* * * * *

Later we hit an IHOP for breakfast, after which I napped in the car while the rest shopped on. My dreams consisted of Maple Nut Pancakes, golden hashbrowns, and fighting my way to the front of a line, guarded by a dragon, in order to purchase a pink DS for my daughter and a pack of chewing gum for myself.

It didn’t turn out well.

* * * * *

A traditional Christian view of the season goes something like this: “The season of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and for nearly a month Christians await the coming of Christ in a spirit of expectation, singing hymns of longing.”

Not to spoil anyone’s Black Friday fun, but seriously? So many Christians are overwhelmingly concerned with maintaining the exterior piety of the season: “don’t take Christ out of Christmas,” they shout. “Don’t take the Nativity off the front lawn of our government buildings,” they exhort.

But where are most of us Christians during the season of Advent? Awaiting the coming of Christ with a spirit of peaceful and humble expectation? Joined together, singing hymns of longing? Reflecting on the coming nativity?

No, most of us spend the holiday season “accidentally” bashing our shopping carts into the heels of the people slowing us down at Target, or honking our horns angrily when someone takes our parking space outside Best Buy, or complaining about how busy and stressed out and financially poor the season makes us.

* * * * *

“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” Charlie Brown shouts at the top of his lungs.

Linus steps forward, sucking his thumb, carrying his blue blanket.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

“And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Goodwill toward men.
Now there’s a novel idea.

2 Replies to “The Blackest of Fridays”

  1. but shawn, we drop a “birthday gift for Jesus” in the offering plate on Christmas eve! doesn’t that count for anything?!

    sorry, just a little sarcasm there. your post resonates with my complete disenchantment with Christmas. it’s why advent has become a very meaningful season to me, and our church, thankfully, is pretty intentional about it and how we can live into it. it really has made all the difference for me in recent years.

    i wonder, do you think it has to do with our ability to segment our spirituality from the rest of our lives?

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