By Victoria Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
Hang on to your Santa hats here, folks. I’m about to go on a soap box rant. Black Friday. Just hearing those two words makes my skin crawl. To me it represents all that is wrong with our society. It is all the blackness of our world boiled down into one hideous day.
Of course, complaining about the commercialism of the holiday season is nothing new; Charlie Brown so famously did so in that Peanuts special over six decades ago. But the commercialism that he was complaining about back then seems quaint in today’s world. And of course, it’s not just holiday shopping I’m talking about– it’s the rampant materialism that I have observed insidiously creeping into our culture over the decades that I have been on this planet.
Being a frugal person who tries to live a simple life and teach others to live within their means and save their money, I am appalled by the “Buy now, spend later” mindset that has become the norm today. It’s so easy to whip out the credit card with nary a thought to the bills that will come due in January. Banks and retailers alike are so generous in their “offers” to allow you to buy merch now and worry about paying for it in the future. There is layaway, Venmo, Apple Pay, PayPal, Google Wallet, 5 Easy Payments plans and a myriad of other ways to get you to part with your money “painlessly” (at least for now).
Most people in today’s world go about their everyday lives spending far more than people did when I was young (and than I do even now). They think nothing of daily purchases of coffee, snacks, and fast food. They buy (what used to be free) water in bottles. They eat out at restaurants on a regular basis. They buy cars they can’t afford and pay them off over the years (with interest). They buy new clothes, furniture, gadgets, and decor, get their nails painted (and whatever else they want) as the mood strikes.
At the risk of sounding very old (Yikes! I guess I am!), back in my day, people made do with what they had and usually only made a purchase when a real need arose. And our needs and wants were somewhat simpler at that. Most of the things that people consider “needs” today didn’t even exist, or were luxurious wants back them; computers, cell phones, big houses, fancy kitchen gadgets, Alexa, giant flat screen TV’s, and the like. I’m not saying you don’t need a cell phone in today’s world, but do you need to continually upgrade to the latest model?
Which leads me back to the holidays, gift giving, and the epitome of all that spending…Black Friday! Yes, of course, presents are a part of the winter holidays. It’s lovely to give some tokens of esteem to our family and friends. It brings joy to delight the little ones with some special surprises. But Black Friday represents to me just how out of hand all the spending has gotten, not just at holiday time, but in our lives in general.
That tradition represents to me that the bottom line in our society today is money. Profit and the all-powerful dollar rule the world. And We the People have gotten sucked right into it all. Bargains and sales galore have gotten people out there to spend, spend, spend! And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
The frenzy of it all is so horrifying. The crowds, the pushing and shoving. It’s just so ugly. People have been trampled to death for this! And for what? To get a bargain on a TV? To get the latest toy? To “save” a few bucks? I’m not even sure they are saving much money. I wonder how many of these shoppers even know what the normal price is on that “bargain” item they are grabbing? I’m pretty sure there is a fair amount of slashing the prices off of price tags that are inflated to begin with (did you really save 200 bucks on that item just because the sale sign says so?). Wouldn’t you actually save more money by just staying home and not spending?
What kind of message are you sending to your children when you get up in the middle of the night to stand in line for that coveted special toy of the year? Are things that important? How long do the children really play with that must-have toy? How many of those toys are now sitting in our already over-full landfills? Where is all this stuff to go?
It's ironic that this day occurs on the very day after we give thanks for all the blessings we have in our lives. Perhaps we should give a little more effort towards having gratitude for the things that we have, and a little less toward going out to acquire more, more, more.
And, of course it’s not even just one day anymore. Now “Black Friday” starts on Thanksgiving Day and continues to Cyber Monday. When will all this madness end? Can we all just take a breath and relax? People who work in retail are now required to leave their family gatherings to get to work for the bargain-hunting crowds. Enough already!
If you are a person of a certain age like me, you will remember that there used to be something called Blue Laws. They were meant to preserve Sunday as a day of religious observation. Retail businesses were required to be closed on that day. And so, people were basically forced to spend Sunday as a family day. Or at least as a day of not shopping. Now, I’m about as far from a religious person as you can get, but I kind of like having one day that is devoted to family (and not to spending). We have come so far from that. We can’t even have one day a year anymore.
I say we try to remember the real reason for the season. Whatever religious holiday you happen to celebrate this time of year, or like me, your celebration predates the religious aspects assigned it, they all have certain things in common. It’s a celebration of love, warmth, light, friendship, and togetherness.
Let’s dedicate the day after Thanksgiving to Green Friday. Instead of further endangering the environment with all that driving and shipping, polluting plastic and tree-killer packaging, buying all that stuff for the landfills, maybe we could devote the day to quietly appreciating our planet and all its life-affirming greenery. Relax and enjoy a cup of green (or any type ) of tea and reflect on the what the holidays really mean to you. What should it mean to your children? Perhaps you and your kids could spend the weekend working on a few homemade gifts for your loved ones to truly treasure.
If you must go shopping, perhaps a quiet, environmentally friendly stroll around your hometown to support and get to know your local shop owners. And by staying away from all the frenzy at the mall, you will surely save yourself some of that other kind of green too. Together, one household at a time, let’s Make America Green Again.
Wishing you a simple, peaceful, relaxing holiday season from the Rolfe home to yours.
A long, long time ago, after the birth of her third child, Victoria made the life-changing decision to leave the work world behind and devote herself to being a full-time mom and homemaker. Along with her new title of Domestic Engineer, she took on the role of the Chief Home Economist for the family.
At first, it was scary to try to live on less than half their income, but Victoria found that she not only rose to the challenge but thrived in the enjoyment of learning to live their best life with limited resources. She embraced this new frugal lifestyle of the at-home-mom and went on to add a fourth child to the mix. And their family was complete.
Along the way she acquired a great deal of wisdom in how to not only avoid debt, but pay off mortgages early, buy cars for cash, travel on a shoe-string budget, and send kids to college with no student loans, all while also saving a tidy nest egg for retirement. She currently educates others in these skills through her business Bright Future.
Now living the life of a modern homesteader in the Hudson Valley, New York, Victoria has added gardening to her list of skill sets as she grows many of her own vegetables to supplement her family’s primarily vegan diet. And she has come to realize that this waste-not, want-not, carbon-friendly, sustainable life she is living is not only benefiting her own family but also our Mother Earth, and that each of us has the obligation to live a responsibly sustainable life not only for ourselves, but for the greater good of our community, and our planet. We can all do this one household and backyard at a time. We are the world! And it all begins right at home.
Victoria can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org