Black Friday 11/27/19

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Many of my friends are beginning to decorate for Christmas. It’s fine; I get it. I don’t like Christmas myself, but I know that’s just me. That doesn’t stop me from teasing them about it, though, insisting that they’re not allowed until after Thanksgiving, but I hope they realize that it’s just a joke. Their traditions are theirs to do with what they will. How they spend Thanksgiving and Christmas has no impact on me, and whatever they do, I wish them a marvelous Holiday Season and great joy, closeness and happiness.

This is really about Black Friday, a little bit about its beginnings, and some thoughts on it. I’m told that Black Friday is beginning to wane, giving rise to online shopping and “Cyber Monday”. I’m glad to see this concentrated commercial blast begin to be spread out, especially to include small shop Saturday (or whatever it’s called) which calls for shopping at the smaller privately-owned stores after Black Friday and the big sales are over.

Ours has been a nation of commercialism and excess for many years, certainly longer than I’ve been alive. Of course, when I was a child, we didn’t have online shops, and people were forced out to the stores. Back then, there were no Black Friday sales. It simply arose naturally.

See, most people had Thanksgiving Weekend off, beginning Thursday, and including Black Friday. Thanksgiving was a well-celebrated holiday in and of itself, and the Christmas Holiday Season had yet to overwhelm it. People would clean up their Halloween decorations, and put out their Thanksgiving decorations, with a lot of browns and oranges, plastic leaves, plastic cornucopias, paper turkeys in pilgrim hats with guns (presumably to shoot their own kind for the feast) and so forth. It was a time to gather and celebrate the bounty of the year with loved ones and extended families (as if “extended families” is not included in “loved ones”). The meal was typically mid-afternoon, and the rest of the day was just family visiting, watching some parades and football, and snacking. The stores then were all closed for Thanksgiving, so there was no rushing out of the door to get to the early bird Thanksgiving Day Black Friday sales that seem to be starting earlier and earlier these days.

The stores would all open at regular business hours on Black Friday. There were no stores opening at midnight, or on Thanksgiving Day, but the stores were always packed. It had always been the busiest shopping day of the year for one simple reason; Christmas was only four weeks away, and since most everybody had that Friday off, it was natural for the family to go out together in the one family vehicle and start their Christmas shopping. There were no sales, no enticements, nothing of the sort. As such, there was no reason for stampedes at the doors to crush the people that arrived early, panicked running through the store for that single limited-inventory big sale item, fights over who got there first. It was actually civil, and it was a family affair.

It was called “Black Friday” for two reasons. First of all, the people working dreaded Black Friday. There may have been no sales, but it was crazy busy, and they worked very hard as a result. And, yes, the shoppers would get tired and cranky; they were probably up too late with their family the night before and didn’t get enough sleep, and the lines at the register were way too long. It was also called “Black Friday” because many larger department stores would “run in the red” most of the year. They spent more money to keep open than the money brought in to pay for it all, and often were losing money most of the year. Black Friday sales, however, were often sufficient to move their ledger from the “red” to the “black”. It was the day when they made money to pay for the entire year and begin actually making profit.

The problem came when some stores decided they wanted a larger slice of the Black Friday pie. It began with Black Friday sales, then extended Black Friday hours. Eventually it led to the midnight openings, and then earlier. Suddenly, Thanksgiving became a waiting period for the gun, everybody just ready to leave the family feast to rush to the stores to be there early enough to buy that big-ticket item, usually not as a gift but for themselves. And alas, the charm of Thanksgiving was overwhelmed by Christmas consumerism.

Happy Birthday, Jesus.

But the thing is, it doesn’t have to be like that for your family. You might lose out on big ticket items, but is that such a bad thing? Imagine deciding as an entire family that you’ll skip Black Friday sales altogether. How cool would it be to return to a day that Thanksgiving is spent just visiting, and then maybe Black Friday can become a family affair of putting the Thanksgiving decorations away, and decorating, as a family, for Christmas? I don’t know about you, but this sounds like such a great family tradition that I, myself, would gladly avoid the crowds, anger and chaos of Black Friday shopping.

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