A Word In Edgewise: Freeing the Ghost of Black Friday


An invitation to the Guthrie’s upcoming annual lollapalooza, A Christmas Carol, made me think of Dickens. How would he have reacted to America’s Thanksgiving-cum-Black Friday rites? I picture him filling his ink pot, sharpening his quill, turning up the lamp, and setting pen to parchment.

When Dickens dashed off his iconic novella in six weeks in 1843, Britons didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, our gateway to orgiastic spending, nor did they have big-box stores or SUVs to haul home newly bought loot. I haven’t the data to ascertain if London shoppers fought to the death over their equivalent of Cabbage Patch dolls, Beanie Babies, and Power Wheels Barbie Jeeps, but we’re not far removed from other aspects of 1843’s bleak London winter.

It wasn’t bleak for the wealthy. Scrooge is a one percenter (the Guthrie features his bulging safe), and his “profligate” nephew Fred keeps a warm and merry house, with a devoted wife, jolly friends, and abundant food and drink. But counterparts to Scrooge’s ill-paid, overworked clerk, Bob Cratchit, exist today; after all, who mans those big-boxes through Thanksgiving Day into the dawn hours of Black Friday, often for less than a living wage?

Perhaps the most chilling part of the novella and the stage portrayal is the massive Ghost of Christmas present, flinging open his robes to reveal two starved, feral children: “Ignorance” and “Want.” They’re still abroad in the world.

No immediate cure, but mega-sports and camping retailer, REI, has dipped a toe in the waters. REI recently announced, “This Black Friday, we’re closing all 143 of our stores. Instead of reporting to work, we’re paying our employees to do what we love most — be outside. Perhaps John Muir said it best back in 1901: ‘thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home.’”

Most other employees will not have this option, but shoppers do. Avoid the stores, and outside or in, consider what home means to you. Fighting for more stuff? Or accepting REI’s invitation?

“On this one day, we’re going to #OptOutside and we want you to join us. While the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we hope to see you in the great outdoors.”

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