Make a buck, make a buck

“There’s a lot of bad ‘isms’ float­in’ around this world, but one of the worst is com­mer­cial­ism. Make a buck, make a buck.”
–Alfred, Mir­a­cle on 34th Street (1947)

Did Thanks­giv­ing even hap­pen? Walk­ing around the neigh­bor­hood and scan­ning the store cir­cu­lars it seems more like some blip between Hal­loween can­dy and Christ­mas toys. In 1947, Alfred’s Christ­mas ism was a fast-footed sprint launched by Santa’s appear­ance at the end of the Thanks­giv­ing parade (though with all due respect for Mr Macy, for us old time Philadel­phi­ans the finale will always be a red-coated fire­man climb­ing into Gimble’s fifth floor).

What was a six week sprint for Christ­mas sales in 1947 has stretched out to the leisure­ly half-mile jog through the autumn months. Trea­cly remakes of hol­i­day stan­dards have been play­ing in malls for weeks. Box store work­ers who might have pre­ferred to spend time with their fam­i­ly on Thanks­giv­ing were pressed into ser­vice for pre-Black Fri­day sales (fed by the hype of arti­fi­cial scarci­ty, it feeds the gam­bler gene’s need for the big win). And today, serv­er farms around the coun­try are over­heat­ing to meet the demands of the lat­est retail gim­mick, the seven-year-old Cyber Mon­day (proof that cap­i­tal­ism hasn’t for­got­ten how to dream up more “make a buck” isms).

And all for what? Most of us mid­dle class Amer­i­cans have every­thing we need. What we lack isn’t the stuff that line the shelves of Wal­mart super­stores and Ama­zon dis­tri­b­u­tion cen­ters, but the us that we’re too busy to share with one another.

I love the puri­ty of ear­li­er gen­er­a­tions of Quak­ers. They point­ed­ly ignored Christ­mas, work­ing and open­ing their schools on the 25th. They would have undoubt­ed­ly skipped the com­mer­cial­ism of the mod­ern con­sumer hol­i­day. But I’m not will­ing to go that far. In our fam­i­ly Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas is a time of togeth­er­ness and sea­son­al habits–tag­ging the Christ­mas tree, Sweetzel’s spiced wafers, mak­ing cook­ies and pies, vis­it­ing fam­i­ly. When I was young, my moth­er made a framed col­lage of my annu­al pho­tos with San­ta, and while it once fas­ci­nat­ed me as a doc­u­ment of San­ta vari­a­tions, now the inter­est is watch­ing myself grow up. Today, our family’s Flickr col­lec­tion of Christ­mas rou­tines shows that same pas­sage of time. None of us need fall into the Hal­loThanks­Mas sea­son of make-a-buck-ism to find joy in togetherness.

  • broschultz

    I strong­ly rec­om­mend all Quak­ers to buy and watch, with a group if at all pos­si­ble, the DVD “What would Jesus Buy?”.
    Every meet­ing should own one copy for their library. You can get it on Ama​zon​.com.
    Mer­ry Christmas

  • Bill Guer­rant

    You make a great point that Black Fri­day uses the hype of arti­fi­cial scar­i­ty to trig­ger the gam­bling impulse. It seems so obvi­ous now that I think about it, but I’d nev­er con­sid­ered that before.

  • Pamela Haines

    I was just asked to write a col­umn for Clas­sism Exposed on mon­ey and pow­er in the hol­i­day sea­son. It was good to reflect on all the things our fam­i­ly has tried over the years to equal­ize our giv­ing pow­er and avoid the worst of the mate­ri­al­ism that comes at us so relent­less­ly. We haven’t gone as far as those orig­i­nal Quak­ers, but I think we have at least pro­vid­ed a buffer for our chil­dren. http://​www​.clas​sism​.org/​g​i​f​t​s​-​p​o​w​e​r​-​m​o​ney