While I don’t begrudge people seeking bargains on holiday gifts, especially in our troubled economy, I think it’s fair to say that if shopping for discounts leads to shoving, fisticuffs, and arrests, the situation has probably gone a bit too far. I honestly have no idea how or when “Black Friday” officially became a thing. Throughout my childhood and most of my adult life, I don’t remember the day after Thanksgiving being anything more than just a heavy shopping day. Now it has a special designation, replete with its own name, days of hype and media coverage, and disturbing iPhone footage of brawls. When exactly did this happen? Did I miss something?
When I saw some of the images of zealous Black Friday shoppers, it brought to mind a painting I admire by El Greco, the Crete-born Renaissance painter known for his unique depictions of religious events. In the Gospel, Christ and his disciples come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Upon entering the Temple, Jesus encounters noisy hoards of merchants and money changers. He promptly, and rightly, throws a fit over people profiteering in a house of worship. So angered by the desecration of a holy site, Jesus took a whip to the scene, overturned the tables, and castigated the exploiters for turning a house of prayer into “a den of thieves”. It is the only Biblical account of Jesus ever acting violently. This incident is referred to as “The Cleansing of the Temple”.
El Greco painted a stunning and effective rendition of the important scene in this composition. An unabashed proponent of conspicuous, almost garish color tonality and distorted elongated figures, El Greco was considered something of an oddity, rejecting the conventions of his day to pursue dramatic visual expression. He did several versions of the Temple scene. I like this one the best.
Christ Driving the Money Changers From the Temple, circa 1595:
Of course, my attempt to draw an analogy with Black Friday is terribly flawed. Christ was objecting to commerce defiling a sacred place where pilgrims come to worship in peace free of distractions, and business existing in a place where business doesn’t belong. Black Friday, in contrast, is all about commerce in places that are most certainly all about commerce. Target and Walmart ARE places to shop, after all. But I think the reason the El Greco painting came to my mind was due to the holiday season being taken over by shopping in general. Gifts, buying and selling, material goods. Truthfully, I have no principled objection to the marketplace and what it entails. Heck I buy stuff. And I very much enjoy giving gifts to friends and loved ones, especially to my niece. But true “gifts” are the gifts of God. Or for my atheist and agnostic readers – of whom I have many – the gifts of life, of nature, of the common man toward one another. Kindness, forgiveness, patience, generosity, goodwill, hope and light. These things, and not flat screen TVs, should be the guiding values of the holiday season, and our lives throughout the year. Love one another.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”