Belfast Telegraph

Black Friday just logical extension of festive avarice

By Gail Walker

Now we are in December I can at least forgive myself for mentioning the "C" word.

Along with wet summers and welfare scroungers, the longest-running moan must be that "Christmas is getting earlier every year". I know I've been hearing that one for most of my life - though, as a child, I don't recall the happy day ever arriving quite as early as I wanted, for all the complaints.

Of course, we are all much more cynical now about everything and the role the "festive season" plays in the economy is much better known than it ever was and we sagely accept the link between the carols of the season and the sound of ringing tills.

Even the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, in his recent attack on the aggressive commercial excesses of Black Friday, acknowledges that the old idea of the "Christmas message" - angels, crib, Christ, goodwill, all that - is very much a lost cause in our day.

"The real question is how to bring back meaning to the festival of Christmas, so that eating, drinking and even buying and selling may find a positive place in a season dedicated to thanksgiving," he says, noting that, "only 31 out of nearly a thousand advent calendars sold in Oxford Street had any religious references".

The annual efforts to remind the populace of the "reason for the season" have failed. The Christmas Story is about vague feelings of "being nice", something to do with "family", but mainly it's about having a good time while spending money.

The increasing commercialism - such an old-fashioned word in itself - of the season is less an issue for most of us than simply its increasing duration.

Yes, we don't like the fact that Christmas paraphernalia sits in the stores even before Halloween - that other vigorous marketing opportunity - but dormant, with lights off and sheltered behind pillars.

The hype, though, has begun even in October with bargains on sofas and dining tables competing with expensive electronic toys for the kids, power-drills for the discerning gent and strange hair-removal gadgets for the ladies.

All of which, it has to be said, are hoovered up. The stores don't kidnap shoppers and rob us. The popularity of the crass sentimentality in the M&S, Morrisons and Debenhams Xmas ads is as widespread as anticipation of the festive edition of Strictly or Downton.

Throw in a few Ebola-related Oxfam or Save The Children ads - £2 per text, or whatever - and there we have the Traditional Christmas, packed and ready for our age.

Even the sternest Occupy activist will be necking the wine and gobbling mince pies, because no one wants to be a "killjoy".

But the fact remains even the most frugal of our private Christmases will entail expenditure which would keep whole families alive elsewhere for a year.

The Black Friday phenomenon, with all its aggression, greed and rage, is only the logical extension of how we have celebrated Christmas for decades. It is a summary, in one day, of whole months of acquisition we have engaged in for a lifetime.

We prefer female fairies, penguin-friends, snow-dusted Dickensian rooftops and magic dust to strawy mangers and rectors and gospel verses. We get aggressive ourselves if anyone points out the orgiastic character of our celebrations, we'll drop a fiver maybe in a collection box and weep our crocodile tears for the poor and those on benefits.

But it'll still be the sorry deluded comrades in the Sally Ann and St Vincent de Paul and dozens of outfits like them, mimicking outworn and abused Christian doctrines, who'll be out with clothes and logs and toys for the destitute on our busy Christmas days.

And this is just how it should be. Rank hypocrisy is our stock-in-trade in Northern Ireland. There was never much "goodwill" at large in our communities at any time, even when the churches had genuine believers. There is significantly less of it about now, in spite of the noise about social justice becoming deafening with the churches, ironically, the main target.

What bothers us, really, about Black Friday, is its accuracy. It hits us right in the pocket, the place where we keep our consciences nowadays. There's nothing we see on Black Friday that we haven't seen for decades at the New Year sales. It's simply people fighting, swearing, gouging, enjoying money, possessions, status and getting one over on others.

Good people, mostly. But people for whom stepping aside from the craven cash-driven festivities would be utterly unthinkable. And who could blame them? Who could blame us? It's Christmas, for heaven's sake.

  • Follow me on Twitter:@GWalker9

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