Guest commentary by Derek R. Davenport
Black Friday is coming. It comes earlier each year. This year, some retailers are starting their sales on Wednesday. I think that’s a good thing.
Of course, with Black Friday come the complaints. We bemoan the loss of Thanksgiving with family. We lament the encroaching of winter holidays and shopping into our November celebrations. We resolve to stand up against the tyranny of commercialism. Then, when no one’s looking, we go shopping.
I have come to appreciate Black Friday, and even believe it’s a particularly good thing for us as a society. Sure, the shopping and frivolous spending are of limited value, but Black Friday could also represent something else: an opportunity.
It doesn’t take long to research the impact of the winter holidays on society. As a pastor, that means Christmas for me. However you want to define the holiday season, charities report that they receive more support during December than any other time of the year. Shelters have to turn away volunteers. We buy school supplies and toys for children we will never meet. We spend time with neighbors, co-workers and relatives we rarely see during the rest of the year. During the holiday season, we are more generous than at any other time of the year.
Black Friday is the way that season creeps into November, and now it’s starting to creep earlier and earlier. If we can start our holiday shopping earlier, could we also start our holiday generosity earlier? Think about the numbers.
Some reports estimate about 100 million American shoppers hit the sales on Thanksgiving weekend in 2013.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans volunteered for a total of about 63 million hours in September of 2013.
Now, with those two statistics in mind, imagine if those 100 million shoppers started their volunteering early – like their shopping. Imagine that starting the holiday sales a few days earlier could get those shoppers to volunteer for, on average, just an extra 90 minutes during the extended holiday season. That would mean 150 million hours of volunteer labor — more than twice what Americans volunteered during the month of September. Starting the sales earlier would be like giving our charities two extra months of volunteer hours. Black Friday (or Black Wednesday as the case may be) could be a very good thing.
But it’s not.
I know it’s not. You don’t need to tell me. People don’t link their early shopping with early volunteering or giving — not as much as they could. There’s a reason for that. Charities, churches and non-profits are often the first groups to speak out against Black Friday. We demonize the commercialization and secularization and monetization of the holidays. We distance ourselves from the encroachment of December into November. We do everything in our power to separate our organizations and institutions from the shopping… and it works. People don’t connect shopping with giving or volunteering because we tell them not to.
This year, it would be fun to do the reverse. It would be fun to do everything in our power to tie churches, charities and non-profits to the shopping. We could offer mid-November “buying guides” with price comparisons along with directions to a shelter and a list of ways to support it. It would be fun to fill a church bus with bargain hunters on Wednesday and maybe make a stop to volunteer on the way home. We could hand out coffee to chilly shoppers Friday morning along with flyers about how to donate online. We could offer free Wi-Fi access at our offices for Cyber Monday shoppers along with pamphlets about the how many more meals financial gifts provide than the equivalent in canned goods. We could see it not as a day of frivolous shopping but as an opportunity.
Black Friday is coming. This year it’s coming on a Wednesday. Please, stop fighting it. Don’t resist. Instead, harness the power of 100 million people who want to start celebrating a little bit early.
DEREK R. DAVENPORT is director of enrollment and co-director of the Miller Summer Youth Institute at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Previously Derek served a church in Florida and frequently preaches in local congregations. He researches church symbolism on his website preachingsymbols.com.