Thankfully Opting Out

Looming on the horizon later this Thanksgiving week, Black Friday beckons the highly commercialized and materialistic West to shop. Luring us into the darkness with promises of unbeatable deals on everything from diamonds and luxury cars to toys and clothing, shoppers are urged to forgo sleep to take advantage of door-buster bargains, and then shop ‘til they drop. Some savvy marketers have even determined that it’s in their company’s best interests to make employees cut short the Thanksgiving celebrations by opening the store sometime on Thursday. You get the impression that, to Walmart, Kohl’s, Target, Cabela’s, and many more, the Thanksgiving holiday exists merely to give shoppers (not their employees, of course!) a day off to go out & buy their goods.

I know, pretty cynical. I’ll readily admit that I’m a bit of a fuddy duddy about the Christmas holiday. I prefer to defer playing Christmas music to after Thanksgiving. Same goes for getting a tree, decorating the house, etc. I get a tad grouchy walking through Menards in October and seeing “Christmas land” set up. As I confessed, quite the fuddy duddy.

Fortunately, though, I’m not the only cynic on the planet who has concluded that this whole Christmas-shopping frenzy has gotten out of hand. About four years ago, I believe, I was thrilled to see that one of my favorite places to get hiking and backpacking supplies—REI Co-Op—announced they were not going to be open on Thanksgiving OR Black Friday! Instead of putting their employees through the stress and strain of the Black Friday madhouse, company leaders gave everyone the day off and encouraged them to “optoutside” instead. And then they encouraged their customers to avoid the stores and opt for the woods. To a fuddy duddy like me, felt like a breath of fresh air—no pun intended.

I can’t say we’ve gone hiking or some other outdoor activity every Black Friday since. In my line of work, Sunday comes every week, and typically Friday’s the day I’m trying to put together messages and lessons. Nevertheless, we have opted outside a couple of times—once, I believe, on Thanksgiving day—and hope to do so this year.

Here are some of the values, for me at least.

Opting out serves as a sort of “protest” against the siren-song of “unbeatable bargains.” Like most, I suppose, I find a good deal hard to pass up. But it all seems so manipulative. I mean, why is this thingamajig 50% off only if you get to the store before 8 a.m. Black Friday morning? The thingamajig is really just a loss-leader, right? Walmart knows if they get me there, I’m certainly going to buy a whole bunch more than one measly thingamajig, so they’ll take a bit of a loss in order to gain from all the other stuff I’m going to buy. I really don’t like being manipulated. Scripture exhorts me to “be sober-minded,” to “gird up the loins of my mind,” to avoid being deceived by manipulative tactics.

Opting out also shuns the crass commercialism that has overtaken the entire Christmas holiday. Nowhere did we see the complete eradication of the real meaning of Christmas than on a visit to Singapore a few years back. Walking down Cherry Avenue in the heart of the city-nation right after Thanksgiving (in the USA), the lights were dazzling and window displays inviting. Our hosts explained that the entire holiday celebration is an import from the West, but strictly for its commercial benefits. The Christian connection to the holiday is wholly absent. Now, frankly, I enjoy the beautiful light displays on the Magnificent Mile at Christmas, but the strip’s secularization isn’t much different than Singapore’s. At least in some commercial displays there’s a vestige of the roots of the holiday. But let’s be honest. Does any of this that begins with stores opening on Thanksgiving day really have anything to do with a Savior who was born in a Bethlehem stable a couple thousand years ago? Opting out gives me an opportunity to protest the stores’ overshadowing of the Savior.

Further, opting out encourages focus. Getting away from all the hype and hustle, the alluring sights, the shiny goods, affords one the opportunity to focus on what truly matters. Can I really think through what I have to be thankful for if I’m getting up on Thanksgiving morning, poring over all the Black Friday ads, making up my shopping list and checking it twice, wolfing down the turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie so I can rush to Walmart as soon as it opens? “Of course!” the modern shopper exclaims, “I’m thankful I can get a new whizbang for $20 off today!” My point exactly. Our culture has robbed us of the ability to ponder any deeper, I’m afraid.

Out in the woods away from the maddening crowds I can reflect slowly, methodically over the last year and consider. How has God protected me and my loved ones? What has He brought us through? How has He comforted my sorrows, healed my wounds? What has He graciously provided, including and beyond daily sustenance? What have I learned? How have my relationships developed? As I take one step after another down a narrow path, I can ponder the steps of my life, the path I’m on, the direction I’m headed, the destination that awaits the end of the trail. I can evaluate. Do I need to make some changes? Have I deviated from the path? Is there a different trail that God would have me take?

The nice thing about such a walk is it doesn’t have to wait until Black Friday! Nevertheless, with that artificial holiday’s propensity to distract from and distort our true values, opting out of the faux celebration in brick and mortar for some fresh air and a walk among leafless trees may be just the corrective we need to keep our holiday celebrations in check.

So what am I doing on Black Friday? Thankfully opting out.