By TOM MAY
The Wall Street Journal carried an article on Black Friday outlining the things that stores will not tell us about the busy shopping day after Thanksgiving. The subtitle to the story was, “There’s a very fine line between deals and delirium.” You probably watched some of the bedlam on television as customers camped outside Best Buys a week early or crowds of people burst through doors at Walmart.
Number one on their list — “Expect pandemonium at the stores.” Many of the stores were touting limited numbers of special products, aimed to lure the consumer in for other sales. Other stores were offering free gift cards, or “cash” to be used later at the store, with certain purchases. Such specials are the main ingredient for crowds and craziness, examples of which were captured by shoppers with cell phone cameras and posted on the Internet.
Another item in the list was “We ruined Thanksgiving.” It is more than true that Black Friday came way early this year. In many areas Kmarts opened at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving and remained open for 41 straight hours. Many Old Navy stores opened at 9 a.m for a handful of hours before reopening Thanksgiving evening. Most Macy’s, Sears and Target stores opened at 8 p.m.
In order to be the first in lines to get the valued special deals, shoppers rearranged their Thanksgivings in order to shop, turning a holiday that was meant for family and giving thanks into another day of shopping. And shop they did. A survey by Accenture indicated that 38 percent of shoppers were out on Thanksgiving, with 41 percent of those staying busy between 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving and 5 a.m. the next morning. Up all night. Giving thanks for the bargain, I suppose.
One final item listed was really a warning. “Be prepared for violence.” Limited quantities and space and an over-abundance of holiday spirits prompted heated words which led to shoving scuffles which finally broke out into fights. At a San Antonio Sears’ store, a shopper threatened someone who cut in line by pulling out a gun. Outside a mall in Kentwood, Mich., police pepper sprayed shoppers who got into fistfights. A sheriff’s department representative called the stabbing and resulting melee in Tazewell County, Virginia as “apocalyptic.”
Some 2,000 years ago the streets were crowded in a small, Israeli village. The Bethlehem Street Journal ran an article about the 10 things that the Roman government didn’t want people to know about the crowded streets and businesses. Political services and local merchants were open 24/6 — nothing moved on the Sabbath — just to handle the throngs of families.
People had come from miles around — not to take advantage of the incredible discounts at the mall — but to be counted by the government for a census that would most likely result in higher taxes. Were the crowds orderly? Somehow people trying to get the few remaining hotel rooms or the last loaves of bread at Kroger’s doesn’t make for docile groups of tourists. Were the folks happy? Would you be happy to stand in a government orchestrated line so that your taxes could go up?
In a lot of ways nothing has changed in those 2,000 years. We are still quick-tempered and short on patience. Lines irritate us. Pushy people make us push back. We fight for the last X-box or sweater our size. And when the government is involved, we are sure that the lines will be longer and the taxes will be higher.
But look closely at that little town of Bethlehem those many years ago. Two people out of the thousands were up all night for a very different reason. Two people out of the thousands were occupied, not with the hustle and bustle, the taxes and lines, the shortages and inconvenience, but with the birth of a child. Two people out of the thousands celebrated rather than cringed. Two people out of the thousands saw more than a manufactured gathering of the masses. Two people out of the thousands saw heaven and a part of earth rejoice.
This year let’s join the power of two.
— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.