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Fertile Ground: Attention Shoppers! The Problems with Celebrating Memorial Day by Shopping

a memorial day ad featuring three women under a 25% off banner

Memorial Day, a day of remembrance in the US for fallen soldiers, is also a day of shopping for many Americans—at least, according to TIME magazine it is. The social media data in the article suggest that most people were more excited about shopping this past Memorial Day weekend than they have been in years.

Many of the articles and media segments I saw this year were aimed at women and the purchasing of clothing. If you live in the United States, you already know that our consumer culture runs deep: Christmas is when its most obvious in its ludicrousness, with people tripping over each other after Thanksgiving to buy a Tickle-Me Elmo doll or find the best deal at Wal-Mart, but Memorial Day isn't far behind. Whether it is TV commercials, shows with product placements (or not-very-well-disguised ads scripted into many of them), or celebrity gossip magazines, consumer culture does not seem to be halting any time soon.

Hope, however, is out there: websites like buynothingchristmas.org, Reverend Billy and his film What Would Jesus Buy?, and the Simple Living Institute all advocate more simplicity, fewer material possessions, and less shopping. The advertisements for Memorial Day Sales, however, still manage to depress me. Not because I think we should all be sitting around sulking, but in US culture, a holiday usually includes something shiny and new. That might be exciting for a few moments, but where are the peace rallies, the tree plantings? They're out there, but where is the coverage?

I don't expect Good Morning America to do a complete 180 and feature money-free events happening on Memorial Day, skipping Ann Taylor dress sales altogether, but when consumerism is on the rise, the environment often suffers, and it is the media's job to cover that. We have been creating a temporary, pop-up economy. And besides the earthly destruction it brings, it doesn't make us any happier. Statistically, depression is on the rise. Consumerism works to fill empty voids with air, making us think we need more and more stuff in a never-ending cycle. Memorial Day (and other holidays) can be about much more, creating memories that people are able to have forever—unlike that new coffee maker that simply replaces your old, albeit not-in-the-best-shape-but-still-works one.

I am not saying that we should darn all of our old socks instead of buying new ones (although you could!). But shopping just to shop, and buying new shoes that make your butt tighter just because Kim Kardashian says you should, isn't the answer either. Memorial Day Sales may seem harmless on the surface, like a girl jumping in the air on a sunny day in a JC Penney's ad, but on a day of remembrance, maybe we should find another way to celebrate.

Previously: Inga Muscio's Rose: Love in Violent Times, Looking at Photos of Organic Food Makes You Jerk-y, Pointless Study Says

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Comments

5 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Shop less, shop better

I own a retail shop and am normally closed on Mondays. I thought about opening for this big shopping day, but you know what? I was open today, and I'll be open tomorrow, etc. I have friends who live in countries that don't allow shopping on Sundays, and even though it seems crazy, they like it. They have to plan ahead to get what they need and therefore put a little more thought into what they will buy. They also like having a day of the week when they *can't* do errands and must instead spend time with friends, family, or books ;-). And although no one in my immediate family for four generations was in the military, I think it's still important to acknowledge the somber nature of the holiday.

There was a time when ...

US states had enforced "Blue Laws" that restricted shopping to not on Sundays in many communities, to encourage worship and family living. They were in effect until the 1970s-on as community-by-community dismantled them in the names of providing more convenient shopping opportunities for working families and growing local enconomies. Now with our consumerism-run-amok culture, with too many shopping opportunities in too many communities relying solely on Walmarts, Targets, and/or other chain stores that do little to help grow local economies, I would not mind if some of these kinds of laws returned, at least to get people thinking about how all this shopping has negatively affected so many lives in so many ways, and that there is so much more to life than shopping and owning "stuff." Of course, the internet commerce complexes would have none of that. Behemoths such as amazon.com and overstock.com would take advantage of such laws, encouraging people to shop at their sites while community stores are closed.

For more on "Blue Laws," go here.

Shopping- all our wants are needs

One of the biggest invisible financial struggles I see people facing is discerning the difference between a “want” and a “need.” I want a new outfit, too, but I need more financial security. Stores really try to convince us to re-classify our wants as needs though. My favorite line that you wrote: “Consumerism works to fill empty voids with air, making us think we NEED more and more stuff in a never-ending cycle.” Yes, all you wrote is so true. I'm so happy you're writing about this.

I'm a huge fan of alternative

I'm a huge fan of alternative gift-giving ideas. My mother is notorious for over-doing holidays with nick-knacks and other "stuff" simply for the fun of gift-giving. Knowing that she loves to give gifts and that simply telling her to stop wouldn't work, a few years ago I asked her to switch to "edible-only" gifts. She had a blast baking and cooking and making homemade dried herbs and spices to give me, and I loved receiving these; they were delicious, and they did not accumulate as "stuff" in my house.

Another great alternate holiday idea came from my sister-in-law; she has transitioned her teenaged kid's birthday parties into Good Cause Parties; i.e., instead of bringing a gift, party members are asked to bring one item that can be donated (to an Animal Shelter, a food shelf, etc) and part of the party includes the kids taking these items to donate themselves.

Just thought I'd throw these ideas into the discussion, because both ideas helped us change the way we celebrate holidays and special occasions, shifting the focus from the simply acquisition of new and shiny "things".

Memorial Day

I was an active duty Marine for 5 years, so Memorial Day means something to me. I lost my friend and mentor in Afghanistan, and I spent Memorial Day remembering. Would you go out shopping on the day of your grandmother's death? Probably not. I know a lot of families who gather every year on the day that a loved one died and have dinner and just remember their loved one. Why not show the same curtesy for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice?