Thoughts on the tradition of Black Friday

Today is the day that has come to be known as Black Friday, the Friday after the fourth Thursday in November (American Thanksgiving), which has come to be known at least symbolically as the first shopping day of the holiday season. Curiously, it has held this distinction even as some stores have began decorating for the winter holidays earlier than Thanksgiving.

Among one of the more interesting recent developments, REI has chosen to close the doors of its retail outlets, and even urging customers to go outside instead with the #optoutside campaign. I see this as quite the bold and commendable move, and may well be the lead in an inevitable wave of backlash against the Black Friday tradition.

Now, I’m not against Black Friday by any means, but the reality is that many shoppers are seeing Black Friday for what it is: consumerism for the sake of consumerism, and in many cases, marketing for the sake of marketing. Like anyone with an interest in the profession, I admire good marketing, but I just can’t shake the thought that Black Friday as a marketing/sales tool has run its course.

Part of what is starting to kill Black Friday is the decision of many retailers, for better or worse, to open for part of Thanksgiving (typically from 6pm or so) when they would not in years past (the so-called “Gray Thursday”). The backlash from this has grown each year, with many refusing to shop on Thanksgiving in protest. Part of the backlash is due to retailers not giving employees the option to freely opt out of working on a holiday. While I can understand the retailers not wanting to do this, the effects of the bad PR will often more than offset whatever sales totals come up for a holiday. There was a time when a store opening on a holiday was a flagrant taboo, something that Just Wasn’t Done. We’ve changed to a 24-hour society, where even on a holiday there are things that need to be done, and things happen like running out of aluminum foil or Aunt Ethel’s favorite diet soda on Thanksgiving morning.

The reality of it is, I don’t see Black Friday going anywhere soon. The actual term for the post-Thanksgiving shopping rush has been with us for a good four decades. Even with Christmas creep, it will take a lot to fully take down this tradition; in fact, it may be the key to ending “Christmas creep” which I personally think is much worse than one day of flagrant consumerism and marketing. Yes, Nordstrom is on to something by refusing to decorate for Christmas until after Thanksgiving, and I wish more stores would follow Nordstrom’s lead. It’s bad enough when Halloween items are out in early September, right after the back-to-school promotions conclude.

Freedom of religion and the Greater Church of Lucifer

Raw Story recently reported on the recent opening of the Greater Church of Lucifer (GCOL) in Spring, Texas, and the activity surrounding it. It should be no big surprise that some Christians in the area protested the opening, with such remarks as this one from a protester:

This is what we get when we have freedom of religion… We ought to be filling up the whole street here, that they have to pass through us to get into that church.

According to local news reports, the church was the target of vandalism. This is not only against the law, it violates the very rules that Christians are supposed to live by according to the Bible, one of those being “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39).

Let’s go back to the protester’s quote for a moment. Freedom of religion means freedom to practice any religion, no matter how unconventional, unpopular, or weird. It’s not a “get out of jail free” card to break the law (for example, the GCOL wouldn’t be able to do goat sacrifices any more than any Christian church would be allowed to do something similar based on Old Testament scripture).

If one were to have asked that woman months prior to the GCOL opening if freedom of religion were a good thing, odds are she would have answered along the lines of “yes, people should be allowed to worship God however they please.” But it’s about more than that. From the First Amendment to the US Consitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

(Later case law has extended this to apply to state and local governments as well. See Free Exercise Clause on Wikipedia.)

Oddly enough, the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment has been used by Jehovah’s Witnesses over the years to get laws discriminating against them struck down. I will admit Jehovah’s Witnesses, even among some Christians, aren’t held in that high of regard; I, personally, can understand wanting to spread the gospel, but here in 2015, knocking on doors of strangers is just not the way to do it. Even decades ago, I’m not sure it was the best way to go. I mean, I know where to get a Bible and where the church is if I want to go. It’s not that hard to find the gospel if one really wants it, unless one is literally in the middle of nowhere (even in rural America, churches are not terribly hard to find, though they may be miles away from where one lives).

Anyway, freedom of religion is for everyone. It prohibits the government from discriminating against Christianity (both Protestant and Catholic denominations), Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, neo-pagan religions (such as Wicca), Pastafarianism, agnosticism, atheism/humanism, and yes, even Satanism and Luciferianism. This is of course not an all-inclusive list, but it should give you some idea as to just how diverse religions and systems of belief can be.

This is something that the Christian zealots quickly forget. Many of them want freedom of religion for themselves, but not for the many other faiths practiced across the country. If freedom of religion is there for Christians, it also has to be there for atheists/humanists and organizations like the Greater Church of Lucifer. Anything else is discriminatory.

A simple red coffee cup

Sometimes the more inclusive you are, the worse the result. Such is the case for Starbucks this holiday season, it appears.

Buzzfeed recently reported on the backlash Starbucks has experienced for its 2015 holiday cups. In years past (from 1997 on according to the company), Starbucks has placed various winter-themed art such as snowmen, snowflakes, a boy and his dog riding a sled down a snow-packed hill, and art suggestive of a decorated tree. This year, Starbucks went with what I describe as a simple bright red/crimson gradient; if you prefer the official line, this blog entry on the Starbucks corporate blog calls it “…a two-toned ombré design, with a bright poppy color on top that shades into a darker cranberry below”.

Later in that same blog post/media release, Starbucks states:

“Starbucks has become a place of sanctuary during the holidays,” he said. “We’re embracing the simplicity and the quietness of it. It’s more open way to usher in the holiday.”

Creating a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity is one of the core values of Starbucks, and each year during the holidays the company aims to bring customers an experience that inspires the spirit of the season. Starbucks will continue to embrace and welcome customers from all backgrounds and religions in our stores around the world.

If only that were enough to appease some zealots looking for something to call a “war on Christmas.” That’s what this simplistic redesign has been called, believe it or not. Even though the designs Starbucks used in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014 had purely winter-themed art, with only the designs in 2009 and 2013 showing parts of decorated trees which some use to celebrate other winter holidays besides Christmas. (See for yourself in this Time article.)

It’s absurd that this is being called a “war on Christmas.” It’s anything but. It’s Starbucks trying to be more inclusive, and trying something different this year. Again, that quote from Antoine de Saint Exupéry comes to mind: “It seems that perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.” Maybe it is an attempt by Starbucks to make the perfect holiday coffee cup. Whether they have succeeded, of course, remains to be seen.

This will certainly not affect the patronage I give to Starbucks, as I support their decision to select coffee cup art they feel appropriate. In fact, I completely support the effort by Starbucks to be as inclusive as possible. This is, unfortunately, a great example of “no good deed goes unpunished.” Starbucks tries to include everyone, and all hell breaks loose by those who still feel left out. (As an example, those of us who have lived in Texas our entire lives barely know what snow is, yet I don’t think anyone complained to Starbucks that they put snowmen on coffee cups.)

I haven’t heard of the Jewish population raising a stink about a “war on Hanukkah” in the entire time I’ve been alive. Nor have the neo-pagans said anything about a “war on Yule.” Same for the other winter holidays which are lesser-known but still exist in some cultures. Yet for the past few years there’s been some kind of “war on Christmas” every year, if you believe those who call it that. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out who the true warmongers are given the above.

To the zealots who have so much free time to spend looking for a “war on Christmas”: How about spending your time on something useful instead? How about waking up and realizing that it is not a “war on Christmas” just because a company opts for simplicity and inclusiveness? It’s a damn coffee cup. Get over it. Sheesh.