Black Friday was originally labeled “black” in the 1960s because of the mayhem it caused in large cities with traffic jams and chaos in department stores, as well as minor crimes and accidents that resulted from them. For retailers, the negative connotations were made positive because it marked the busiest shopping day of the year, the day that they got to use black ink to show profits, even if the red ink of loss had dominated most of their fiscal calendar. By the 1980s, the black label was deemed a marketing sensation. Many businesses claim that 30% of all sales occur during the holiday season. Like a White Christmas, which symbolizes holiday dreams, Black Friday is a state of mind for business owners’ dreams to come true, too. Now, of course, Black Friday gets smothered by Cyber Monday as more and more people prefer on-line shopping deals over losing sleep and fighting crowds.
On another side of the proverbial coin, philanthropists and those in charitable work promote the next day, Giving Tuesday, as a day to remember the dreams of the downtrodden and destitute members in our society. Approximately 40% of annual charitable donations are made in the last two months of the year and over 10% on the last three days of December. In these days when lots of money changes hands, those of us working in charitable vocations or avocations attempt to direct people of good will to not forget the poor. It’s kind of like during the last papal conclave, when it became clear that the archbishop of Buenos Aires would be elected pope, the cardinal sitting next to him in the Sistine Chapel, his friend from Brazil, leaned over and whispered, “Don’t forget the poor.”
I don’t suppose any priest wants money to be a focal interest of his ministry but, at the same time, we recognize care for the lowly to be our central call of duty. Thirty years ago, as a young priest, I was assigned to visit elderly and infirm parishioners. One particular gentleman seemed standoffish throughout our half-hour visit as I struggled to make conversation. When I reached for the door to leave, he said, “Come back for a moment—I want to tell you something. You’re the first priest who ever called on me that didn’t ask for my money.” I suppose, in the eyes of some people, priests are associated with begging—or worse. Though I don’t want to be one of those priests, I realize, as do most Catholics, it takes a lot of money to carry out the work of the church, from maintaining parishes to supplying food and basic needs to those who struggle for them, to providing meaningful religious education to keep us heaven-bound.
This holiday season gives us lots of color between Black Friday and White Christmas: from red Santas to green trees with silver bells, to an array of neon shades in the million flashing lights that brighten our way. And in the church, this time between Thanksgiving and Christmas focuses on a purple Advent to remind us of the Christian way and our task to prepare a way for the Lord in our hearts. If your heart calls you in this holy season to participate in Giving Tuesday or an end of the year charitable donation, I urge you to follow your heart: don’t forget the children and don’t forget the poor.