Don’t cheapen the holidays

The government’s not the only one that drops billions of dollars in one fell swoop.

Bargain-hunters do it too.

Last year, over Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas shoppers spent a record $52.4 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. This year, the federation expects 147 million people, about half the country’s entire population, to hit the stores looking for deals starting today — Black Friday.

Not to get all Scrooge-like about shopping, but we have to ask: Is this a good thing? Because it feels wrong.

Let’s start with the obvious. This weekend, along with stories about the economy (it’ll either be resurgent or lethargic), we also can count on stories about flared tempers, human tramplings and the occasional death.

Last year, a woman pepper-sprayed a crowd to get a competitive shopping advantage. Or there was the case in 2008 of a Wal-Mart employee who was crushed to death by shoppers. So many fights have broken out in recent years that there simply isn’t space to mention all of them. Sharks at least need to taste blood to act this way.

Admittedly, violence is rare among the millions. But setting aside those criminal acts, it still seems that this surge in shopping brings out people’s worst impulses, turning what should be a spirit of generosity into a sport.

The holiday season is meant to marked by kindness and giving. That includes getting gifts for loved ones. To some extent, shopping needs to happen. But massive bargain-hunting doesn’t. Really, it shouldn’t.

There’s a desire to fill the space under the tree with as many presents as possible — and, to do that, most of us try to stretch every single dollar.

Maybe we do this because we want to make our family and friends feel appreciated and loved. Maybe we just want to get our money’s worth. Whatever the case, it’s an understandable impulse.

And yet there’s nothing heart-warming about finding out that the present you just opened was bought for a bargain-basement price — gifts chosen based on Amazon.com’s daily deals. Really, that’s a bit depressing.

We still want all 147 million people to go to shopping this weekend.

We want billions spent, a resurgent economy and employment for part-time holiday workers. Commerce isn’t a bad thing. We want presents under the tree.

But we don’t want gifts given out of a sense of duty. We don’t want bargain-hunting to turn into a blood sport. We don’t want Black Friday to be considered a holiday tradition.

It’s a painfully obvious desire, one that many would hopefully echo, and yet it’s a desire that probably will go unfulfilled again this season.

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