I’ve been in the working world for at least 15 years and only really became aware of Black Friday five years ago. I was oblivious to it before that, but now I cannot get away from it as it dominates most November conversations, with people planning their stokvel and bonus money around it.
The images on TV of people queuing outside retail stores from 5am and then rushing in as the doors open so that they can be among the first to receive the sale items before they run out is both fascinating and scary. Even now I’m sure most of our mailboxes and phone messages are jammed full of Black Friday specials – insurance, furniture, grocery and liquor deals that we “absolutely cannot afford” to miss.
What gets to me is the gluttonous atmosphere that this time of year creates, with excess being at the centre of it all. Be it excessive eating, drinking, shopping or even excessive cheer, it all feels strained and almost desperate.
It’s as if people spend the other months of the year denying themselves pleasure, rest and reward in order to tap into it all at once and dive into it much like Scrooge McDuck would dive into his vault of gold coins, revelling in his wealth. (If you’ve watched Duck Tales, you will know this reference well.)
The worrying thing about this is that some people spend more than their budget and go into debt. By the time January rolls around, they are barely able to afford groceries for the month, petrol or even school uniforms for their bundles of joy to go back to school because of the devil-may-care attitude brought on by festive fever.
Companies such as medical aids have become wiser and have taken to sending notifications that people can pay their premiums before the usual month-end date, anticipating bounced debit orders from emptied bank accounts that funded the enforced euphoria of the holiday season.
Although I do understand the need for businesses to make money by capitalising on our loose purse strings at this time of year, it does still make one uncomfortable to see people being encouraged to spend money they do not have, particularly in the midst of a pandemic. It is also highly insensitive to those who have lost their livelihoods.
There seem to be a few things at play here that inform people’s reckless spending. One, I think, is a sense of being entitled to a reward after working really hard all year. Not being able to fully enjoy one’s blood, sweat and tears makes it feel right that you now can let loose and indulge.
Second is that the past two years have been probably the most difficult we have all had to face globally, with much of what happened feeling completely out of our control.
We have been subject to an invisible virus that has wrought so much instability, turmoil and trauma that it is understandable that we seek to comfort ourselves by trying to create a sense of all is well, despite the state of the world. Cue the enforced warm fuzzy cheer and cocooning created by material goods. However, what of those who have lost their jobs and income and cannot afford these material comforts?
How do they comfort themselves?
We are locked into a consumerist culture that thrives on making us look outside ourselves for fulfilment as well as imbuing a pervasive sense of Fomo (Fear of missing out).
We have a need to be seen as part of the crowds cramming their trolleys on Black Friday, or flying off on an extravagant end-of-year holiday, or decking our festive tables with food that will most probably go to waste because it’s too much to consume in one sitting.
There was a wormhole in time in 2020 when we were in hard lockdown and were forced out of the consumerism cycle. We had to look inward to self-soothe and appreciate that being alive and with loved ones was a much more sustained form of reward.
The material is a distraction and creates a false sense of happiness that needs to be chased with the next bigger, flashier and more extravagant thing. It’s a vacuum that needs to be questioned, not blindly fed.
We have to see ourselves as whole people throughout the year, and not just at the end of the year. We must find meaningful ways to reflect and nourish ourselves so that we do not make decisions based on the delirium of exhaustion and euphoria. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.