Lighting up a dark holiday

Storm Bermudez

Lines of anxious people fueled by sleep-deprived fervor, wallets and clipped advertisements clutched tightly in hand, grouped together in front of a busy department store: this picture of a Friday’s morning marks the beginning of the winter holidays.

With Black Friday turning into Black Thursday – as opening time gets pushed back as early as 10PM – who knows how far stores will push their form of holiday cheer?

Holiday consumerism has essentially written its own history: Black Friday’s name was created in the 1960s by Philadelphian cops who found their job difficult in the traffic caused by holiday shopping season. Businesses did not, however, appreciate the negativity; in the 1980s, retailers focused on the black ink on balancing sheets creating the “fact” that retailers rose out of “debt-red” and into “profit-black.”

Among the many common American holiday traditions, there are enough corrupted histories to make anyone exclaim “bah humbug!” and retreat, eggnog and newspaper headlining a Black Friday trampling in hand, to some distant corner of happy ignorance where true origins remain unknown.

But the remedy for this disappointment is simple: one needs only to adopt a broad perspective to rekindle the yule log of Christmas cheer. Around the world, from Hanukkah to Diwali to Hogmanay to Las Posadas, the theme of light persists. With the arrival of the winter solstice (now affectionately called the apocalypse) and darker days, light is produced to symbolically eliminate evil. We have our version of this: Christmas lights and decorations. Although excessive decoration purchase is consumerist, the importance is not so much the physical object, but rather the idea behind it: we gather with our loved ones to deck the halls.

Consumerism seems engrained in American history, but only in 2002 did Black Friday officially become the busiest holiday shopping day.

The holidays are a times where we are able to gather together. It’s a time to spend with those you care about. We as a culture may have succumbed to the allure of petty consumerism, but traditions can change.

The bells of the Salvation Army donators still ring among the slew of shoppers. Passing the discounted TVs are still people buying gifts for people with the Christmas wish of simply surviving.

Holidays are set apart from the rest of our scheduled lives, and in this time, we go against the daily traditions we partake in. The wholesome traditions of our winter season fight what may come so naturally to most of us. It is fun to get good deal during Black Friday or an iPod in our stocking, but when it gets to an excess, do we become consumed with our own consumerist darkness?

I hope that among all the excitement of singing “Last Christmas” for the millionth time or baking gingerbread people, time is taken to enjoy what it really all means to us – and perhaps, give others the biggest present of all by sharing the giving spirit.

After all, as Benjamin Franklin said, “a man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.”