Utahns embrace Buy Nothing Day by stowing their wallets
While the shopping hordes swarm into retail outlets for Black Friday, imagine using the day after Thanksgiving to relax and buy nothing.
Millions of people around the world now participate in Buy Nothing Day, a counter-statement to the advertising-fed, door-busting frenzy now designated as the official start of the Christmas season.
Somewhere between hundreds and thousands of Utah participants mark one of the year's biggest shopping days by putting their wallets away. They stay home, enjoy family, throw parties, go on hikes, ride bikes or even stage performance art to highlight the global problems of rampant over-consumption.
Jen Seals, a 38-year-old east Millcreek mother and assistant property manager, first heard about the event in 2000 the same year that Buy Nothing Day advocates were denied commercial airtime on all the major U.S. television networks except CNN. She now extends the shopping chill-out through the weekend and has scaled down her family's Yuletide gift-giving as well.
''It always felt messed up to go out and fight the people and the crowds to start the holiday season, all to buy a bunch of junk that people don't want pretty much,'' said Seals, who linked her choice to stay out of stores Nov. 29 to a quest for deeper meaning.
''You're not going to find that spirit and purpose in life at the mall,'' she said.
Launched in Canada in 1992 and promoted by the Vancouver-based magazine and social movement Adbusters, the day is scheduled on Friday in the U.S. and on Saturday in countries as diverse as Austria, Israel, Japan, France, New Zealand and Norway. The Buy Nothing campaign urges partcipants to "go cold turkey on consumption for 24 hours â¦ see what happens â¦ you just might have an unexpected, emancipatory epiphany!''
Ardent enthusiasts use the day to hold credit card cutting parties, dress up like zombies and wander aimlessly through malls or form long shopping-cart conga lines that wind through store aisles.
Utah's nearly 33,012 retail establishments account for about one in every four jobs in the state, with a total economic impact of more than $20 billion yearly, according to the industry's own figures. And a significant share of those annual revenues come in on Black Friday.
"It is a big day and an important day for Utah retailers," said Dave Davis, executive director of the Utah Retail Merchants Association.
But Buy Nothing goes beyond one day to broader movements toward simplifying, thrift, reducing debt and several other consumer-awareness issues growing out of the recent economic downturn. The Adbusters Media Foundation recently renamed the campaign #OccupyXmas, with a view to extending it beyond Black Friday with ideas such as buying locally, giving homemade Christmas presents and diverting part of seasonal spending to charity.
Utah is one of four states with active Winter Coat Exchange programs, also offered as a community-oriented alternative to Black Friday. Anyone can drop off clothing donations between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Crossroads Urban Center, 347 S. 400 East, and other locales around Salt Lake City.
A movement known as The Compact urges participants to sign promises they will not buy anything new for an entire year.
Involvement in such campaigns also has widened as the ecological, psychological and financial implications of industrial economies centered on growth and resource consumption have entered public consciousness.
Just last week, scientists attending a U.N. climate change conference in Warsaw highlighted the link between individual consumption and emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases. Government policies alone, many said, will not be enough to address the problem.
''There's an awful lot we can do as individuals,'' Alice Bows-Larkin, an atmospheric science researcher at the University of Manchester, told the progressive public-radio news program Democracy Now. ''So we need to be looking at our own actions in the energy we consume, the kind of things that we purchase, all our own different lifestyle choices.''