Pursuing Happiness on Black Friday

Many Americans participated in consumerism-gone-wild sales during the Thanksgiving holiday. Should we be thankful for this retail madness these sales generate?

The conversation at my in-laws’ feast was filled with typical Thanksgiving talk: family, God’s blessings and shopping sales. My sister-in-law left the celebration with her teenage son for a while to check out a few local stores. Later, during our 45-minute ride home, my wife suggested that I make the ten-minute ride to Prime Outlets Mall – Grove City (PA) with my oldest son to pick up a bargain or two at the big midnight sale.

According to its web site, Prime Outlets – Grove City, located near the intersection of U.S. Routes 79 and 80, is rated as one of the nation’s top 20 outlet centers with over 140 brand name outlets. The mall was closed on Thanksgiving, but shoppers from great distances and Canada were primed to enjoy savings of 25%-65% from 12:01 a.m.–10:00 a.m. on Friday.

My son, eager to pick up a few children’s classic books and Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy, rose from bed and joyously dressed at 12:15 a.m. Friday. About a mile out of town we ran into a traffic jam. Car accident, we thought.

It was no accident! Due to a successful advertising campaign, cars were jammed bumper-to-bumper for three miles on the country road between Grove City and Prime Outlets. My son and I had never seen anything like it in our peaceful community of 8,000. We avoided the jam and took a back way to the mall. Pausing on an overpass on a lightly traveled road, we viewed the traffic on Route 79 below with amazement. The four-lane highway had become a parking lot. Cars were backed up 10 miles to the north and six miles to the south. And more were stacked up on U.S. Route 80 for four miles to the east. Some people waited five hours on the interstates.

The reason became apparent when we cruised into the mall: the 3,000-car parking lot was full. Four thousand carloads of people were stuck on the highway.

Was this a disgusting display of American consumerism gone wild? A Gordon Gecko dream? Most important, was this any way to spend a Thanksgiving evening?

We Americans hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. There is some debate by scholars as to what Thomas Jefferson meant by the term “the Pursuit of Happiness” when he penned the Declaration of Independence. Some scholars believe that Jefferson, influenced by political philosopher John Locke, intended the phrase to mean the right to own private property, which includes things we now purchase at outlet malls. Others believe that Jefferson had a larger view of happiness that not only included the pursuit of private property, but religious and political freedom, as well as the right to free speech and conscience.

Let’s return to my earlier thoughts: was this any way to spend a Thanksgiving evening?  Should we Americans be embarrassed by the ravenous retail rampage in Grove City?

Some Americans may object on religious grounds. “Can’t we savor a day of thanking God for his blessings beyond the stroke of midnight?” they might ask. Others may object for financial reasons. “Can you imagine the credit card debt incurred?” they might state angrily. In America, we have the freedom to voice our concerns.

But others may rejoice that people saved up to 65% on clothing and Christmas gifts in stores that were mobbed but remarkably orderly. Perhaps that savings will be used wisely for purchasing groceries, home repair, college tuition or making charitable donations. Perhaps some good Samaritans made bargain-purchases for those less fortunate.

Thomas Jefferson was not a Christian but he deeply appreciated the bible and knew it well. In fact, Jefferson created his own version of the bible by eliminating its references to miracles. Certainly Jefferson would have read 1 Chronicles 16, which tells about King David’s thanksgiving song and celebration. David’s song of thanks includes these words: “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns!’”

We Americans believe we were endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. I believe we will find true, lasting happiness in glorifying God. And sure, we can be happy about finding a great bargain on Black Friday. This is part of America’s greatness—we can freely pursue both kinds of happiness. I’m thankful for that.