Thanksgiving Day is coming, and Mr. Turkey said: "It's very careful I must be, or I will lose my head."
That little ditty, still popular among today's vegan-leaning schoolchildren despite the gruesome fate on the chopping block, might serve as a warning to consumers as we head into a holiday shopping season that could help revive the economy.
Don't lose your head. You'll need it.
The traditional start of the Christmas spending orgy comes Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and rarely, if ever, has so much been riding on the hopes that shoppers will throw aside their fears -- and their late-payment notices -- and shop until they drop or the recession stops. It's not likely to be that easy.
Black Friday, as it used to be called when it could be counted on to put retailers in the black for the year and when predawn shoppers trampled each other in angry scrums fighting for the last Tickle-Me-Elmo doll, may only be gray this time. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers expect to spend 3 percent less on shopping than they did last year, and two out of three American families say they are worried about the economy and plan to spend less, look for sales bargains, use coupons, make do with last year's decorations and hold the purse strings tight.
With unemployment high, jobs still being lost, credit hard to get and Americans skeptical that a recovery has begun, this could be the modern-era equivalent of all those Christmases your grandparents told you about, when their stockings were filled -- if they were full -- with oranges, a wooden top and a pack of chewing gum. All of this brings us to the patriotic consumer's dilemma: Shopping is good for the country's economy, but dangerous to your family's financial security. What are we supposed to do? Mary Jane LaVigne and Reverend Billy have the answer:
To be more precise, they say "buy nothing" on Black Friday. Buy nothing from the big-box stores and buy nothing from the corporate consumerism pushers. Instead, spend your money locally, spend it thoughtfully, and avoid spending it on cheap, trendy junk that clutters your closets after it breaks and might have been made in a sweatshop or an overseas factory where workers are paid poorly and treated worse.
And, most of all, ask yourself WWJB: What Would Jesus Buy?
That provocative question is the name of a documentary about Rev. Billy and his ministry that will be shown in the Twin Cities on Friday and Saturday, and which dares to challenge all the messages we get telling us to be good little consumers and do our part in fattening corporate bottom lines and bringing the economy to "recovery."
"It's not possible to consume our way to prosperity," says LaVigne, a White Bear Lake writer. "If that was going to happen, we would've done it by now."
LaVigne is one of a group of "Buy Local" enthusiasts sponsoring the film showings and appearances by "Rev. Billy," a subversive Jimmy Swaggart activist/street preacher who lampoons commercialism and questions our civic religion notions about buying things. A native of Rochester, Minn., "Rev. Billy" (real name Billy Talen) has preached in Times Square and has developed an entertaining "ministry" that, during the course of making his movie, got him tossed out of the Mall of America.
The serious side of his message: Buying locally is better (90 cents of every dollar stays in your town); consumerism is "a lie," and government help belongs on Main Street, not Wall Street. It's an argument that has made a lot of converts lately, and even the Wall Street Journal took note of Rev. Billy last spring.
"We asked Rev. Billy to come and bless our local retail stores and protect us from a Christmas season dominated by the big-box stores," LaVigne says. "We need to hear about how to live a good life. Rev. Billy is not sacrilegious; he is calling us to honor the real traditions of Jesus. After all, Jesus threw the money changers out of the Temple. The more thoughtful we are about what we choose to buy -- and where we choose to buy -- the more successful we will be at creating a better world."
So this holiday season, as you try to reconcile your patriotic urges with your anxieties about holiday spending, ponder the message of Rev. Billy: Buy Locally, or Buy Nothing. It might just save your head. And your wallet.
"What Would Jesus Buy?" will be shown at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis (3800 42nd Av. S.) at 10:30 a.m. Friday (Rev. Billy calls it "Buy Nothing Day") and 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Rev. Billy will "preach" at the Saturday showing, as well as Saturday night at The House of Balls, 212 3rd Ave. N., and at a Sunday afternoon appearance at Macalester College in St. Paul. (For information, see www.revbilly.com.)
Nick Coleman is a senior fellow at the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy & Civic Engagement at the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.