When retailers add a dash of ritual to their events, the profits can be enormous. With its weeks of advance promotion and overnight campouts , followed by a day of celebration, Black Friday follows a rhythm that eerily recalls the Catholic pattern of Lent, Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday. Perhaps that’s why Black Friday has taken root in countries that don’t celebrate Thanksgiving but do have long Christian traditions, such as Britain and Germany.
Similarly, Amazon Prime Day is marked by weeks of hype, followed by a midnight start and a short but intense shopping frenzy. It rang up an estimated $4.2 billion in worldwide sales in 36 hours in 2018. This year, it will last 48 hours and showcase brands endorsed by celebrities, our culture’s secular saints. Comedian Jane Lynch even kicked off a promotional concert for Prime Day by enthusing about membership in Amazon’s Prime service, as if two-day shipping bundled with music and video services represents a kind of transcendent lifestyle.
But it’s not just the trappings of religion that modern consumer culture has appropriated. Some observers believe shopping has become a substitute for belief itself. As British philosopher Julian Baggini wrote, “Preachers seduce us with the promise of a better life to come, advertisers with the promise of a better life to come right now. Both offer an escape from the mundane reality and endless striving that real life is made of.”