Another black (eye) Friday

Gunfire. A bomb threat. Fist fights. Yes, just another Black Friday.

In 1992, Vancouver artist Ted Dave started a movement called Buy Nothing Day to provoke thought about overconsumption. In the years since its inception, the movement has not only grown, but has put a laser focus on Black Friday. The initial goal was to encourage people to stay at home and be with family but it quickly moved into the public protest realm. Last Friday, adherents held climate protests, blocked store entrances, and disrupted shoppers by using carts as obstacles.

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Household debt in Canada has reached more than two trillion dollars. The silver living, one analyst said, is that recent surveys indicate 55% of Canadians said they planned to spend less on Christmas presents. Of course this is not news retailers want to hear. Revenue this time of year is important to the viability of many businesses. So where is the line between over-indulging in holiday spending, versus spending that contributes to the health of the economy? Perhaps it's not as tough as we think.

We live in a culture of excess, yet amongst us are those who are hungry, cold, or lacking what many of us would consider basics. What if we were to flip the script and do this a bit differently. Many already do—and it has changed how they approach giving.

Just within my circle is one family that keeps track of what they spend on candy and junk food in December and then double that to send to a food bank. Another family chooses a charity that everyone donates to and when they get together they exchange handmade presents. One set of grandparents takes their seven grandchildren shopping and have them each choose one gift for themselves and one for a toy drive.

Instead of looking for better deals, maybe we just need to seek out better destinations for our dollars. Yes, the big box and on-line giants will continue to offer up bargains that some will find hard to pass up. So would people still wait in those lines or click away at their computers if all those purchases were to be given away? Given to those who have little? To strangers? Imagine if we were to give away much more, and spend less on the things under our own trees. We could still participate in the hunt for the bargains (for those who find it fun), but not in the head-scratching, hand-wringing attempt to buy stuff for people who really don't need anything more. It's not about buying nothing, but about buying and giving to those for whom it would really make a difference.

Business analysts are looking closely at what took place Friday and of course we continue to watch Cyber Monday increase its chokehold on the retail scene. So much of what was purchased will be added to the piles of possessions people already have. It doesn't mean the surprises we put under the tree for others aren't fun. Of course they are. But there are other ways that spirit of giving can be expressed.

Head to the local craft store and buy supplies to create cards, treat bags, decorations or anything else you want to make. Your handmade creation may not be perfect but will absolutely be appreciated. Pick up baking supplies and make cookies to take to someone who can't get out as much as they used to. Send flowers to someone who has brightened your year. Write notes of appreciation to someone who works with a community organization. Visit local stores and buy food and gifts for those you know don't have the resources to add extra expense and for whom this time of year can be stressful. Want to make the feeling of giving even better? Do it anonymously. No dollars spent will ever feel as good.

         Would it be prudent if people consumed less and avoided overspending this month? To be sure. But we don't need to walk around carrying signs or blocking shoppers. Instead, we can stop the flood of dollars out of our community and put that money back into products that can truly make a difference--bought from people we know and who know us. If we want to give this Christmas, let's give in a way that matters. That's my outlook.


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