Jake O'Kane: Black Friday is the toe of a long-dead saint you've never heard of

Greed and our attempt to gain social superiority via the objects we own transcends the ages and shows no sign of diminishing

It’s appropriate the term Black Friday is derived from financial disaster when you consider its sales will see millions of people fall further into debt
Jake O'Kane

IF I'VE learnt anything at my advanced age, it's that you must never drink and text nor should you purchase anything online after midnight.

As we brace ourselves for the consumerist orgy masquerading as a Christian celebration, that second rule becomes even more important.

Insipid Americanisation is gradually replacing our culture. We eat at US burger and chicken franchises, we watch and listen to US films and music, and now we've adopted the US tradition called Black Friday.

Many believe the origin of Black Friday relates to the fact that Christmas sales moved businesses 'into the black' financially; however, the truth is somewhat darker.

The term 'Black Friday' was first used on September 24 1869 when two US investors called Jim Fisk and Jay Gould drove up the price of gold and caused a stock market crash. Such was the impact of their actions that the stock market dropped 20 per cent and foreign trade was suspended. Real people suffered, with farmers seeing a 50 per cent drop in the value of their wheat and corn.

It’s appropriate the term is derived from financial disaster when you consider Black Friday sales will see millions of people fall further into debt.

I once knew a wise man who lived by a simple but profound principle. Before buying anything, he asked himself two questions: Do I need this and do I want this?

As our shopping habits shift from high street to online, the temptation to indulge in a bit of retail therapy has become a 24/7 reality.

I've started setting down strict rules when shopping online. I no longer buy anything after 10pm, as I've experienced things purchased in the dark are invariably regretted in daylight. My downfall was I loved the anticipation of the postman arriving with the brown cardboard box, which I'd tear open to reveal my latest bargain. I finally realised something was wrong when a parcel arrived containing something I'd no memory of buying.

Having checked it wasn't a mistake, I vaguely remembered that weeks earlier – one night unable to sleep – I decided I definitely needed an electric fly killer costing £50, a bargain at half price. In the cold light of day, I worked out that as I'd only seen two flies the previous summer, this meant I'd was paying £25 per fly.

Not that I'm the worst. I have a friend who likes to peruse the offerings of the many online antique houses for what he describes as 'something different'. With something of a dark sensibility, he couldn't help placing a 'blind' bid on a lot described as a genuine relic of a 16th-century saint. The fact there was no picture should have been a warning but, having seen such items sold before, he presumed it would be a bit of cloth or a piece of bone contained in a small reliquary.

The real find is the reliquaries, often beautiful creations of gold, silver or other precious materials. What my friend bought was the black mummified toe of a saint he'd never heard of, contained in a plain wooden box. Knowing his wife would never allow this into their home he miraculously managed to resell it at a small loss.

For centuries, relics were our antecedent's version of today's bling. Kings traded them with each other and conquerors plundered them before gold or diamonds. The obsession with relics began in the second century, increased at the end of the fourth century, and continued unabated until the Reformation in the 16th century.

What I'm saying is our Black Friday was their mummified black toe; the obsessive covetousness exhibited by relic hunters still exists today. Greed and our attempt to gain social superiority via the objects we own transcends the ages and shows no sign of diminishing.

What many don't realise is the objects they work so hard to possess often possess them. Consumerism enslaves devotees in the prison of living to work instead of working to live. As you complicate your life with multiples – be it houses, cars or gadgets – your freedom is sacrificed to service those things you don't need.

Having said all this, I know full well that on Christmas Day my home, like many others, will be littered with toys seldom played with, uneaten food and the general detritus of wanton Christmas consumerism.

Yet, I do find these days I ponder before pressing the 'buy' button on my computer and ask myself, do I need this and do I want this?

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