Sleepin’ Good on Black Friday: I Won’t Buy What Nobody Needs

Written by Chuck Gruenwald on November 30, 2013

As my alarm clock rang today at 5:30 A.M. – Black Friday — I woke to briefly think about the hordes of humanity that were currently pillaging department stores and shopping malls across our great country. Shortly afterward, I went back to sleep. Any thoughts of leaving Thanksgiving dinner early just to stand in front of a department store for hours before it opens just because “everyone else is doing it,” reeks of the lemming mentality that has rendered useless the discretionary abilities of many individuals.

The thought of trying to be the first, or one of the first people in line for the opening of a store, in order to fend-off other fellow shoppers, in order to buy items at seemingly unrealistically-low prices, in order to give those items as gifts to others on a day when we are supposed to exercise selfless behavior in celebration of the birth of the most selfless person in history, appears as just a wee-bit counterproductive.

Yes, Christmas as we now know it needs an overhaul.

I feel fortunate to have grown-up during the seventies and eighties, since that was probably the period within history where American culture transitioned from what it had fully been until the early sixties, to what it is today. Believe me I am not trying to state that this evolution has been for the better.

Instead, it has been a blessing in terms of living in the final days of the past that has helped me grasp ideals that are important in terms of facing the future. Also, living through this transition has helped me realize the best – and worst – of both worlds.

Northwest suburban Chicago in the seventies and early eighties still included farmland. Mount Prospect was home to Randhurst, a Victor Gruen-designed mall that had also been one of the first enclosed malls built in the US; the opening of Randhurst symbolized the beginning of this transition around Chicago.

Opened in 1963, Randhurst was designed to resemble a triangle, so that the three anchor stores were equally spaced from each other. This triangle design created a layout that is different from any other mall that I have visited. Whereas just about every indoor mall has an “intestinal” layout where anchor stores are separated by long, narrow store-lined corridors, Randhurst had an open, multi-level core, topped by a dome with colored glass panes that helped light the mall. In addition to its unique floor plan, the anchor stores were all owned by Chicago chains, and the smaller stores were local as well.

Randhurst management – and just about every retailer back then — treated the buildup to Christmas as though it were a science. This buildup was an intentionally slow process, starting with the mailing of Christmas catalogs. These catalogs were filled with pictures of fun and interesting toys that supposedly helped lawyers make tons of money – at the expense of supposedly injured children.

In the late eighties or early nineties, this slow buildup was replaced with “Christmas overload,” the practice of making the arrival of Christmas, and the “need” to buy as many presents as possible, not so subtle.

The Christmas overload mentality of retailers today is proof that we live in a pro-Attention Deficit Disorder culture. Advertising and just about all other messages are kept short; the thought of trying to convey a message that requires any amount of extended thought is discouraged. The biggest disadvantage to short, simple messages is that the elimination of an extended thought process makes the development of a greater attention to detail more difficult, such as trying to appreciate the works of William Shakespeare, develop good habits for a career in automotive restoration or handicapping horse races as a hobby. Serious handicappers could spend hours analyzing a horse race before placing a bet; a pro-ADD culture cheerleader labels this type of analytical practice as unrealistic, despite the fact that it is a generations-old hobby.

Creating a hyper-consumerist environment has drawbacks, especially if the quality of the products being sold is substandard.

The “unsafe” toys of the seventies had been replaced with cheap, disposable items that have no imaginative qualities. Also, nobody who I had grown-up with had ever received an injury as a result of an “unsafe” toy.

When I shop for my nieces and nephews, I lean toward the simple items, such as clay, paper and other drawing supplies, and anything that could develop a hobby and an interest in science and technology. In other words, gifts that do not restrict their imaginations or creativity end up as favorites. Electronic kits and plastic models – anything that requires any level of assembly is popular. Unfortunately, today’s chemistry sets that include everything but chemicals are an oxymoron.

When I shop, the names of my nieces and nephews make up my shopping list. I have had my share of Christmases; I do not need any more gifts. Now, it’s time for the next generation to have their turn. Buying gifts just for the sake of giving them negates the sincerity of the effort.

Of course, everything in this rant is insignificant compared to the homogenization and secularization of Christmas.

Trying to beat back the “happy holidays” movement that is driven by the perpetually-offended is hard enough. But trying to keep the mega-church ringleaders and their “God is awesome,” feel-good message from distorting Christianity into a series of “hooray for me,” feel-good seminars may prove even harder.

Everyone wants to feel good. However, some people will go so far as to find religious leaders who will help fill that need by “forgiving” them for their actions – even if those actions include annual un-Christian behavior toward fellow Christians in a local Target at six A.M. on the day after every Thanksgiving; a day when some extra sleep may not be such a bad idea.

Imge: Courtesy of:

Born in Chicago and raised in northwest suburban Cook County, Chuck Gruenwald developed an unfavorable opinion of machine politics quite early in life. In addition to cars, electronics, law enforcement, and politics, Chuck enjoys writing, and is also a horse racing fan. He has recently written op-eds for