Holiday Gift Ideas and the CULTure of Black Friday


Yesterday, I posted this video on Facebook of some horrible behavior at a Wal-Mart Black Friday event. A thoughtful friend of mine commented, “Imagine having to work there at 2 am for $10 an hour!” About a half an hour later, he then added, “Been thinking about this and am curious, what does this mean for you? What does it say?”

Black Friday Thoughts

His question stopped me in my tracks because it wasn’t an easy one to answer in a quick soundbite. I felt my friend, who I consider to be quite wise, was challenging me to articulate my profound feelings in a way that maybe would clarify it, not only for myself but for other friends who may not make the associations I do about it all.

I ended up responding with a poem, because it was the easiest way to get my hands and head around all the connections I’d made about this kind of rampant consumerism and the rash behavior of the Black Friday revelers in recent years.

What I didn’t know was that my friend, a man I consider to be quite thoughtful and not the least bit materialistic, had actually posted a short blog in favor of (and perhaps still grappling with) Black Friday. He thanked me for my thoughtful response and shared that he had always “Really loved Black Friday,” because, as he intimated in his post, “It’s a day when poor people can afford to buy things.”

A Day the Poor Can Afford . . .

While this kind of egalitarian thinking has certainly always been my thing and I confess that in the past, I have even participated in the early morning rush that is Black Friday, in the past few years, I have come to see it in a much different light. When my friend said he saw it as a day that poor people could actually afford to buy stuff — it struck a nerve. Because, on the surface, this idea of making things accessible to everyone seems like a good one, but for me, it only highlighted a deeper concern — the idea of our NEED to BUY SOMETHING as the crux of our CULTure of consumerism.

In fact, I used to share his viewpoint but now I’ve come to believe that it’s this kind of thinking (that we need to buy stuff to make us happy) that keeps all of us down but most especially the poor.

Growing up Poor but Proud . . . and loved

I grew up poor. I don’t mean, “Oh-darn-my-parents-didn’t-get-me-EVERY-item-on-my-Christmas-wish-list,” poor. I mean, “Oh-god-we’re-not-eating-beans-again-for-the-5th-day-in-a-row-are-we?!-Wait-we-have-tomato-sauce-to-pour-on-top-tonight?-Awesome!”kind of poor.

The funny thing is though, my most memorable Christmases were those where I got the least or where there weren’t any fancy store-bought gifts. My favorite Christmas EVER as a kid was one where my mom, had saved her pennies (I literally mean pennies) and went to a local craft store, that we used to pass on our walks home from the library. She bought us unpainted ceramics and painted these for us for our Christmas presents that year. My mom watched us as we walked past the ceramic shop and how we used to pore over the displays longingly, faces pressed against the window glass, pointing out our favorites.

I was in the 5th grade, 10 years old, and I received a ceramic piggy bank in the shape of an ice cream cone with colored Jimmies on it and a small rainbow shaped mirror to hang on my bedroom wall. The mirror was left unpainted, so I that could paint it myself. She also gave me a tiny ceramic brooch of a parrot, that she’d carefully detailed in electric blue with red and yellow accents on its wings.

When I opened the gift, I was excited by the colors and the beauty of the gift but I also thought about the time my mother must have spent, in the evenings, after we’d all gone to bed, painting these items for us (me and my 2 sisters, who each got 3 items as well.) They were perfect. Smooth bright colors, each Jimmie, its own vibrant example of the love and time she put into that gift.

I proudly wore my brightly colored parrot pin to school each day for a whole year and used the ice cream cone bank, with its pale strawberry ice cream, dollop of fudge, creamy white whipped cream, sprinkles and a cheery cherry on top, until it broke during one of our many moves when I was 17.

Gifts We Remember Most, Have Meaning

I had so much fun painting the rainbow that ensconced that small piece of mirror. I dated and signed it on the back in paint. I still have this treasure among the handful of meaningful stuffed animals and dolls given to me over the years — the stuffed monkey my Aunt Julie sewed for me one year with a tag that read, “Made with love by Aunt Julie,” and the little black baby my great grandma Jason made for me, stuffed with scrap cloth, when I was 3 and leaving for Germany with my parents. (I’d been worried and sad that I wouldn’t get to see my granny’s neighbor Pearl’s baby, Sharone, for a while. I was under the impression that she was mine. Granny made me a baby that looked like Sharone to take with me.) Then there was the green floral print elephant “Santa” brought me when I was 5, that came with the tiniest vial of lightly lemon-scented perfume and the small antique black satin coin purse that my great-grandmother gave  me as a symbol of the “Indian guide” she bestowed on me at the age of 6.

Simple Pleasures, Simple Treasures

These people gave me their hearts and their time — not the latest and greatest gadgets bought at the cheapest prices. They didn’t wake up at 4 am to drive to a  big box store for the privilege of elbowing some other gift giver hell-bent on procuring the latest phone or video game that their kids are craving. They gave me love, attention, real affection and thought. Time spent thinking about me and what I might love from them, from their heart. Time spent telling me stories, playing with me, sharing with me, baking with me and laughing with me.

I guess that is my point. I don’t fault those caught up in the wish to give the world to their loved ones. Given the means, I don’t doubt that we all would want to make our loved ones’ wildest dreams come true. But I’m not really sure that the answer to what’s important in life is ever answered with the things we buy. Most treasured memories in a lifetime, revolve around experiences, around time spent, thoughts shared, and connections made.

Gift giving should mean something, it shouldn’t be the checking off of a list, the purchasing of an item to fulfill some contrived idea about what we NEED to have to be complete. It should be something given with adequate thought by the giver, to be appreciated by the receiver, as a token that says:

I care about you

I see you

I know you

I love you.

Gifts given in this vein are NEVER about money or the lack thereof — they need only be about connection and kindness. Give gifts like these and you will always be remembered for taking the time (not the money) to really see someone and to make them feel important in your world.

Wishing you all the very best this holiday season!

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