Thanksgiving is a family time of year—but not for everyone.
In 2008 on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, the deeply discounted first day of Christmas shopping, a large crowd was pressing against the front glass doors of a Walmart in Valley Stream, N.Y., on Long Island. When they finally burst through the locked doors, the eager shoppers, in their rush for the bargains, trampled to death Jimmy Damour, a Haitian immigrant working for the store that day as a temp. When management tried to clear the store to deal with the tragedy, shoppers were irate at being denied their spoils. These people would trample the living and the dead to reach the golden ring of the latest thing.
In 2011, also on Black Friday and also at a Walmart, a woman pepper-sprayed the people around her to get though a crowd gathering around a newly introduced crate of discounted Xbox video game players. The last shall darned well be first. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured.
There are certain notorious crimes that dwell with us because they are as much about us as they are about the perpetrator and the victim. The 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in her unresponsive Queens neighborhood. Bernard Goetz shooting his assailants on the New York City subway in 1984. The 1999 Harris and Klebold mass shooting at Columbine High School. The Valley Stream trampling is among them. Or should be.
These shopping atrocities would be appalling at any time, but the fact that they happened the day after Thanksgiving is as unsettling as it is thought-provoking.
We have every reason to be thankful, not only as individuals but also as a nation, that is, to thank God who made and provides for us. But think of how much of your joy and satisfaction in life depends on consumption—whether turkey, electronics, or clothes—and how much on relationships, i.e., family, friends, church community, and Christ Himself. People kill for stuff, but when the house is on fire, it’s pictures that people grab on the way out. Park Avenue in Manhattan is lined with people lousy with stuff but empty of love. And they’re miserable.
At Thanksgiving, we savor the relationships we have, our ultimate non-consumables. We thank God for stuff and people, but we gather with people to enjoy stuff. Our society is better, even richer, for what that day sustains and strengthens.
But this year, for the first time, the shopping madness will begin on Thanksgiving Day itself, presenting most of us with a choice between family and stuff, even if it is stuff we are buying for family. No doubt the tragedy for many people involved in these Black Friday horror stories is they haven’t much family at all. So they don’t look around them in thanksgiving, but ahead to consuming.
But if you have family, as most of us do, the best Christmas gift you can buy them may be yourself at Thanksgiving, given at the expense of paying a little more over the best sale price, or buying the same thing at the same price but a day or two later. That’s a great gift at a low price.