Belfast Telegraph

Black Friday a sorry display of human nature at its worst

By Alf McCreary

One of my saddest memories of this year is that of a queue of small, hungry children waiting patiently in line while volunteers from Christian Aid handed out pieces of plain white bread to them.

The scene was in a community of poor people who were living in terrible housing conditions on land near Johannesburg which was polluted with dangerous levels of radioactivity seeping in from former gold mines nearby.

The children and their parents did not know of the dangers because the South African government had not bothered to tell them.

However, they will discover sooner or later about the dangers of the current radioactivity which are likely to cause respiratory illnesses, or cancers later on.

What impressed me about the children queuing for food was their quiet orderliness.

No one was pushing or shoving. They waited patiently for a handful of bread, and then ate it quietly. I even noticed two boys sharing their morsel of food with a third child who had missed the handout.

Last weekend I could not help but think of that poignant scene which was a sharp contrast to the disgraceful behaviour of some people who were hell-bent on obtaining items in the commercial free-for-all which masqueraded as Black Friday. I am sure that they did not set out to create such a scene of aggressive materialism, but that is the way it turned out. It was a sad and sorry display of human nature at its worst, and I hope that the commercial firms involved will not allow it to happen next year, if there is another Black Friday.

In recent years the idea has been imported from America, which has sent us some very good and some very bad innovations. Apparently some retailers in the US thought of Black Friday as a counterpoint to the national Thanksgiving Day, which is always on a Thursday.

The main idea, of course, was to make money, but Black Friday comes after one of the most important national holidays in America. Thanksgiving Day originated with the Pilgrim Fathers and it was a day of Christian worship and of thanksgiving to God for their survival in the New World, after their long and perilous journey across the Atlantic.

So last week we had the juxtaposition of what originated as a religious festival, together with an example of commercial greed at its worst.

There is nothing wrong with seeking a bargain, and I always keep an eye out for a good deal at a time when retailers are keen to do business. However, there is a difference between seeking a bargain, and being ready to tussle over a cheaper television set or other items without consideration for other people.

Black Friday was also an unfortunate prelude to the Christmas season where the main objective is supposed to be a celebration of the birth of Jesus, and not just another means of making a great deal of money.

Perhaps too many people no longer care about the original meaning of Christmas, but if we allow the Biblical story to be buried under commercial crass, we will lose something priceless and unique about the real spirit of the Christmas season.

Black Friday was a 'black' day in more ways than one, and I hope that the Christmas light will continue to shine as a beacon amid the utter darkness of our materialistic age.

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