In the Bleak Midwinter
Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday. The last week of November is a string of the busiest shopping days of the year. If we’re not mindful, we could easily spend every minute between our last bite of pumpkin pie and our first sip of eggnog bowing to the gods of consumerism by doing an unholy amount of shopping.
We line up. We bring tents. We refresh screens. We overbuy and overspend. We give away. We throw away. We feel a rush, but also, we suffer.
The harms of our overblown holiday shopping can be measured by various units: CO2 emissions and nonrenewable resource expenditures, landfill-bound material waste, crashed websites, mounting debt, labor and wage infringements, violence, and even loss of life at malls and big box stores.
Even without the facts and figures in front of us, we know. We know that our personal holiday stressors are shared with others and the environment. Black Friday and its associated acts may be good for the economy (online holiday spending in 2021 is projected to top $200B), but what good is a strong economy when the life forms that prop it up are depleted, drowning in consumer and planetary debt?
When we put aside these truths, recorded statistically and in our bones, we’re engaging in a powerful act of magical thinking.
Let there Be Light
Yes, the holidays are supposed to be magical. And yes, for several of the world’s major religions the “reason for the season” is to engage in powerful, collective ritualized acts. Traditions from around the globe have us celebrating light—the light of a long-burning candle, the light of new life, the light of family and community, the light of the cosmos shifting. At a time of year when the days are short and dark, it’s in our nature to look to the light.
Winter is a season of decay and dormancy. When it comes to the abundance of spring, we have winter to thank. This is easy to know, harder to feel. For many of us, winter’s external conditions are mirrored in body and mind, casting an annual dark night of the soul. The holidays can be medicine, an opportunity to guard against the real and proverbial darkness by engaging in ritual.
For centuries people have gathered at this time of year to light fires, sing, tell stories, pray, share meals, and otherwise invite in whatever glimmers they’re seeking. And up until recently, the gift of the ritual was all that was exchanged. It was enough.
In his book The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices author Casper ter Kuile defines ritual as “patterned, repeated ways in which we enact moral emotions—of compassion, gratitude, awe, bliss, empathy, ecstasy—that have been shaped by our hominid evolution and built up into the fabric of our culture.”
As ter Kuile explains, and many of us can personally confirm, contemporary society has rapidly disassociated from religion in the last century. For all their organized ills and exclusions, religious communities have historically filled the void in all of life’s seasons with frameworks for making meaning.
Traditional holidays and what they celebrate are by no means perfect, but their origins are rooted in something larger than buying our way through tough times and important milestones. “We need to find a new way forward,” writes ter Kuile. “Drawing on the best of what has come before, we can find ourselves in the emerging story of what it means to live deeply connected.”
Are we doing this? Or are we shopping?
Buy Nothing, Sleep In
The really beautiful thing about tradition is that it’s made by us—and kept alive by us too. Within that lies the power to remake and unmake. We live on an over-consumed planet. How can our rituals honor and repair this reality? At OneClock we’ve been impressed by the example other companies have set in their approach to Black Friday.
In 2011 Patagonia ran their infamous “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad in the Black Friday edition of the New York Times—an unforgettable campaign that has seen as much staying power as its iconic brand. Patagonia has gone on to shirk Black Friday norms every year since, and encourages folks to buy less and buy better year-round. In 2015, REI announced their stores would be closed for Thanksgiving and Black Friday, giving all employees both days off to spend time outdoors as part of their #optoutside campaign.
If you think these are risks only the tried-and-true can take, they’re not. Last year the popular wool footwear company Allbirds raised their prices on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, donating the extra change to Greta Thunberg’s organization, Fridays for Future. And in 2020, the Swiss recycled bag company Freitag launched SWAP (Shopping Without Any Payment), a Tinder-esque app that allows customers to exchange their pre-used bags with each other instead of buying new ones. Sounds better than any white elephant party we’ve been to.
If you want to purchase a OneClock this holiday season, we’re here. The same way we were here yesterday, and the same way we’ll be here tomorrow. There won't be any bells and whistles (just really lovely melodies). We don’t believe OneClock should be purchased impulsively based on a marginal price drop or artificial urgency. That’s not how we built it, and it’s not how we’ll sell it.
Instead, as the Black Friday alarm rings at its early hour, we invite you to make a new ritual of sleeping in. And then, once you wake up? Go sit and have coffee with your mom, dad, kids, neighbor, or dog. Watch the sun travel across the kitchen window. Appreciate. Connect.
Make it a thing.