Holiday Consumerism


Anyi Folkers

Pictured: Shoppers at the CambridgeSide mall in Cambridge.

Helen Gillett, Contributing Writer

Emails, billboards, social media, newspapers, and public transportation are just a few of the countless mediums used by companies to advertise their “super saver” deals around the holiday season. Every year, as egg nog hits the shelves and menorahs are readied to be lit, brands manage to broaden the scope of their sales until it begins to feel like purchasing an item at full price is a rip-off. But what does Black Friday even represent anymore?  Why does it exist, and how can people shop with mindfulness and purpose without going overboard?

We are all too familiar with the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, when many people begin to accept the rapidly approaching holiday season and flock to the store to “save” on gifts or items for themselves that they are able to justify buying because of the sales. But this phenomenon now extends well beyond its designated date, and the term “Black Friday” has taken on a much broader and more widely applicable meaning. Many businesses no longer limit their deals just to the Friday after Thanksgiving itself, but stretch them as many as multiple weeks before and after the actual day. Some companies even have Black Friday events during the spring and summer to inspire the notion of saving in their consumers, when, really, they are promoting heavy spending.

However, in the case of the endless Black ‘Friday’ sales events and the looming holidays, many people are sucked into buying excess items … ”

For the consumer, sales of any kind only result in savings if someone was already planning to make a certain purchase to begin with. However, in the case of the endless Black “Friday” sales events and the looming holidays, many people are sucked into buying excess items when they may have not spent anything at all had it not been for a sale, small or large.

American consumer culture is staggering when you consider the amount of money spent on material items. According to the National Retail Federation, holiday retail sales in November and December were between $727.9 and $730.7 billion in 2018. Materialism at this scale encourages competing companies to produce products for very little money, often at the expense of good working conditions and environmentally friendly practices. Intense consumerism can even lead some people to mountains of debt.

It can be difficult to place oneself in an issue so large and feel as though what we do really matters. However, amidst our planet’s looming climate crisis, it is more crucial than ever to shop with care and thoughtfulness. Not only do the impulsive purchases at Black Friday sales events produce a staggering amount of waste in the form of packaging, but the increased amount of online shopping also results in large CO2  emissions from transportation used for shipping. And while a small number companies have chosen to boycott Black Friday altogether or to donate a certain amount of their profits to charity, there needs to be more widespread acknowledgment both from corporations and the general public of the many negative effects heavy consumerism can have both on society and the environment, and movement towards a more mindful spending culture.

This piece also appears in our December 2019 print edition.