Torn by contradictory imperatives, shoppers on Black Friday face a dilemma.
Should we do our duty to help the economy by spending money, thereby buoying business and creating jobs? Or should we keep our credit cards in our wallets, thereby doing our part to manage the debt crisis?
Known as "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving is the beginning of the holiday shopping season. The origin of the name, or so goes one version, is that this is the day when retailers go "in the black," or start making money after months of losses.
Every year merchants devise more clever ways to whip us into a shopping frenzy for the holidays. They offer earlier hours, special discounts, even tour packages. On Thursday we gorge on turkey and stuffing, and on Friday we stuff our carts with bargains.
In a time of economic difficulty, and with many of our loved ones out of work, there is temptation to offer our own personal stimulus package and go on a shopping spree.
During an earlier downturn, the president tried to fire up shoppers by making Black Friday come sooner. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the second-to-last Thursday of November to add a few shopping days to the year. Not everybody liked the idea, however, and Congress had to step in two years later to set an official date for the holiday.
It's too late this year for President Barack Obama to create anymore shopping days. Fortunately, we now have a special day after Thanksgiving for online shopping: Cyber Monday.
But the question remains: Should we spend money we don't have? Should we go deeper into the red on Black Friday? What is a patriot to do?
Our Thanksgiving tradition is to share the bountiful harvest. On this Black Friday, when the harvest has not been so bountiful, we should shop if we want, share if we can and remember those whose carts will be a little less full.