by Jacob Mattie, SFU Student
Black Friday has never been a holiday for the people. From its conception to its frenetic present-day form, it has always been a way to encourage impulsive consumption. With the dramatic changes in our lifestyles ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic, we should take advantage of this upset to our social norms and put an end to the practice of Black Friday.
The event that grew to be known as Black Friday first took the form of a Santa Claus parade in 1905. Despite limited advertising in the parade itself, the event drew in crowds of families, jumpstarting the Christmas shopping season. The practice quickly spread to businesses throughout the United States, some of which — such as Macy’s, still host parades to this day. Although the date of the event has since changed slightly, the concept of a store-sponsored celebration to mark the beginning of holiday shopping has remained constant.
And understandably so! In 2019, North American shoppers alone were the source of over $7.4 billion in spending. With Canadian Black Friday shoppers expecting on average to spend $1,000 on gifts, this so-called holiday is a big merchandiser’s fantasy come true. But while a mass spending spree helps pad the accounts of businesses worldwide, it comes at the cost of people who are better off saving their money for more deliberate purchases. Not only does Black Friday hurt the finances of its participants, surveys show that it builds off of unfounded assumptions about gift-giving. Nearly half of Canadians were found to feel a great importance towards gift-giving, but only 5% feel as strongly about receiving. Considering that one in six people are expecting to return gifts received over the holidays, something doesn’t quite line up.
The pressure to buy runs far beyond any desire to receive. We’re being duped, played, and muddled — coerced into extravagant purchases for those we care about to reconcile the imbalance in pressure to give and receive. The implication of an outside influence looms large, and we find a prime suspect in the subtleties of advertising, produced by the businesses that benefit directly from events like Black Friday.
Every year, Black Friday explosively marks the start of a pressure to spend hard-earned money on things that we don’t necessarily need. We gift away entire paychecks for presents that may not even be wanted. This year, it’s time that we finally stop. Not stop in the sense of shopping from home instead of going to stores (hello Cyber Monday), I mean stop in the sense of being critical with our purchases. I mean talking to our friends and family about our collective spending habits and our expectations for the holiday season.
By taking a few moments to reflect on whether we really even want that article of clothing, that newest piece of technology, or that cool kiln that lets you melt glass in the microwave (no matter how sweet it sounds), we can build a better sense of our own, independent values outside of what is being sold to us. By distinguishing between genuine want and casual appeal to both ourselves and those around us, we can begin to move away from the commercial dominion that has come to represent the winter months.
Let’s start by recognizing that the beginning of holiday shopping — Black Friday — is not a day to be celebrated.