A Light at the End of the Black Friday Tunnel

by Dave Evans   |   November 11, 2016

Rei Optoutside

I’m pretty sure the holidays were meant to be a time for us to give thanks and spend time with our families, but I’m not convinced.

Lately it seems like Christmas is an excuse to shop, and Thanksgiving is a pre-game meal for Black Friday. School’s out and work is closed, but the consumers inside us just can’t seem to relax and enjoy it.

Every year on Black Friday, millions of shoppers wait in line for hours, rush through the doors, and claw at each other to get the best deal. Last year, over 74 million shoppers battled the crowds on Black Friday and 35 million shopped on Thanksgiving Day. Have we really placed getting a good deal on a TV or nabbing the next hot gadget higher than spending time with our families?

Thankfully, one company is making an effort to bring us back down to earth. Outdoor retailer REI mustered the guts to forego the massive profits driven by Black Friday in exchange for increased loyalty from their members and some much deserved respect from the humans inside us.

As a lifelong outdoor enthusiast and someone who has boycotted Christmas since I was 12 years old, REI’s stand against Black Friday really resonates with me. Apart from being agnostic and knowing that Santa wasn’t real from a young age, I could never wrap my head around the gift giving aspect of the holidays. There is so much social pressure to get the right gift and to make sure not to forget anyone that we lose sight of why we’re together in the first place.

Not to mention that acting excited about a gift you don’t like is really awkward…

As my siblings and I have gotten older, it’s been easier to tone down the consumer side of the holidays. Last year was a big step for us (and my favorite Christmas ever). We instituted a secret Santa rather than the traditional gift exchange which resulted in less shopping, more time with the fam, and less awkward unwrappings.

And while we made considerable progress in my household last year, REI went mainstream. Fed up with American consumer culture, REI took the lead to close its doors and encourage us to get outside on Black Friday.

“Last year we started a movement for people to reconnect outdoors over the holidays. We closed on one of the most popular shopping days of the year, paid our 12,000+ employees to spend time outside, and invited America to join us. The response was overwhelmingly positive. More than 1.4 million people and 170 organizations chose to #OptOutside.” —REI

Last year, I opted outside and went on a family hike for the first time in almost 10 years! And we were rewarded. On a mountain trail in the foothills of the Coachella Valley, we saw three Big Horn Sheep—a rare sight, as the sheep's local population is working its way back from near extinction.

This year, REI is back at it again, closing their doors on Black Friday and paying their 12,000+ employees to spend time outdoors. More importantly, they’ve started a movement that’s gaining traction. Last year, 170 organizations joined the movement, and this year REI has partnered with giants like Subaru of America, Google, Meetup, Upworthy, and Outdoor Research to spread the word.

Black Friday has become extreme enough that even a handful of retailers themselves are protesting against it. It’s time for us to take back the holidays, and it’s never been easier or more fun to protest. This year, I encourage you to get outside in whatever way you enjoy nature and let the outlets know that you chose to #OptOutside.

David Evans is the founder of prch, a resource for conscious consumers. He is a UCLA graduate with a degree in Environmental Studies and Geographic Information Systems, working in the crossover between tech and conservation. David's an environmentalist, minimalist, and teacher who helps others improve their environmental and social impact. Learn more via Twitter @theprch, Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theprch/, and Instagram: ontheprch.

This article originally appeared on prch on October 26, 2016.