Black Friday: The cons of participating

Herald-Leader Staff WriterNovember 19, 2012 

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MARIA BELL — Getty Images/Hemera

A television commercial shows two children presenting their parents with their Christmas lists. The boy's list is a single page. The girl's list is many, many pages. This is supposed to be funny.

But it's obvious that the girl has caught what is considered the "Christmas spirit," and its refrain is "gimme gimme gimme."

This is why I hate the Christmas blitz.

Christmas should be a season of spirituality, renewal, rest and joy. For too many, it is a season of frenetic activity, spending money on items for which they will still be paying next summer and finally arriving at a black hole of the soul after the wrapping paper is scraped up.

But you can refuse to play the game that starts with Black Friday or Dark Thursday or Wacky Wednesday or Cyber Monday or however the holiday buying rush is being jump-started this year.

If you enjoy spending the night in a tent to get a bargain TV, by all means, party down. If your idea of a good time is jostling with other shoppers to get to the loss-leader laptop, have a blast.

For those of us with homes, transportation, food and clothing during this grim season post-Superstorm Sandy, why not sleep in and count our blessings?

Dealnews.com notes that the weeks preceding Black Friday and the week after, called Cyber Week, offer deals better than Black Friday. Dan de Grandpre of the deal news website adds that toys are cheapest during the second and third weeks of December.

Athletic gear is cheapest in May, he says, and winter clothing in January.

A variety of websites and retail experts, such as Lifehacker.com, tell us the seasons to get the best prices on certain items — linens and furniture in January, for example.

The items best bought during November and December? Champagne, pools, golf clubs and televisions.

For years I tried to force the book Unplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson on people during the holiday season. It urges taking the season at your own pace; if a holiday is a job, it's not a holiday.

For another book on the same theme, try Bill McKibben's Hundred-Dollar Christmas.

The thing I remember most about the Christmas machine book was the story of a woman who had little money but every year tried to make a special item for her family. So she used some of her scarce funds to make a marshmallow castle with peppermint candy, which promptly disintegrated, showing its base of toilet paper tubes. Her husband didn't even want it in the house.

Her conclusion: to spend more time with her children. "That's all they really want from me anyway," she said.

That anecdote stuck with me. If a holiday stresses you because you can't keep up, either with time or money, it's not a holiday: It's a competition.

Here are a few tips on surviving the Christmas season in good spirits with little money:

■ When people breathlessly ask, "Are you ready for Christmas?" respond that yes, you are. You've planned a warm bed, a big meal with friends and family, and a celebration of the days growing longer gain. Perhaps you'll even attend a church service and listen to music by candlelight.

■ If you want to spend money, consider giving to organizations that make the lives of others better. Your local homeless shelter, food bank, animal rescue or home-building program need your help.

■ Got kids? Read them The Christmas Day Kitten by James Herriot, in which a dog-loving woman gets a surprising, and accidental, Christmas gift. The best present our family ever got was a kitten that wandered into our yard on Christmas night. Uma the cat has given us joy long after the "shiny things" have worn out. I can't even remember the presents we exchanged that year.

■ Take up visiting. When I was young, people set aside time to visit friends and relatives in person. With the advent of social media, fewer of us actually sit down on a couch or porch and spend time with our loved ones. One year, an acquaintance sent out Christmas greetings via email. Do not be that person. Send a card. Make a call.

And if you're going to show up at Black Friday, a grateful nation thanks you for punching up the retail numbers. But some of us will be home, making the kind of memories that have nothing to do with the size of a television.

Cheryl Truman: (859)231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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