If you’re reading this then either you’ve already been out for Black Friday and have had a requisite nap, or you’ve done the right thing and slept in/have been enjoying some lazy time on the day after a major holiday. Or, at least, that’s just my opinion. Black Friday is something of a perpetual mystery to me. It was never something my family participated in (if anything, we usually spent the day after Thanksgiving in a movie theater), and it’s not something I recall participating in as an adult. Yet, I understand why it happens, or rather, why retailers want it to happen…I guess. But what really struck me about the notion this year was how Black Friday wasn’t just relegated to the Friday after Thanksgiving. Somehow, Black Friday has been going on since the beginning of the month.
There’s actually some pretty interesting history behind not just Black Friday but also the retail season between Thanksgiving and Christmas (as well as Thanksgiving generally). But don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you to tears with history and stuff. Suffice to say, the term “Black Friday” was reportedly first used in Philadelphia in the 1960s. The cops apparently coined the phrase to describe the shopping madness and associated traffic nightmares that occurred in the city on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Despite this early occurrence of the phrase, the term didn’t make it into pop culture until the 1980s. And in a mere twenty or so years, we’ve somehow gone from Black Friday being a semi-normal day of special shopping deals to a day (and then some) of sales-driven mayhem and frenzy.
But y’know, even though I don’t “do” Black Friday, I have a number of friends and family who enjoy it. And they are all quite sane; and none have had to spend time in a hospital due to Black Friday injuries. For one, Black Friday is a tradition. She and a friend pick a specific pre-dawn time to meet, head to a specific store, and are back with handfuls of treasure before breakfast. Done. If I was as organized and as patient as she, maybe I’d be able to get myself together for some Black Friday “fun.” I’ve never heard of her getting in as fist fight over a toy or trampling over some poor soul who’s just trying to keep up with the crowds. But those are the stories that make the news, of course and sadly.
But why has Black Friday become a month-long event? Why were we faced with Christmas commercials at the beginning of the month? Because I need something to blame, I pick the Internet…or more specifically, our “always on” culture. We have so many tools at our disposal now to connect and stay connected. And while we may want to connect with only our friends and family, lots and lots of other people, such as retailers, want our attention too. What starts out as simple “give us your email to receive coupons” conversation at cash registers can easily turn into a barrage of messages about how you can save 20% here or 40% there. And if you happen respond to one of those messages, you’ll probably then find out that your savings could become even greater when you like [said stores] on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. Department stores and specialty shops will do anything they can to get them a sweet slice of that holiday pie, even if it means invading our homes, computers, and mobile devices with Black Friday promotions a few weeks early.
I worked a holiday job in a Macy’s once, and this was before Black Friday started on November 1st, but the competition for Jane and Joe Q. Public’s money even then was fierce. Though I was hardly privy to any real secrets, the stories I heard from longtime employees made me rethink holiday shopping in general. (And it’s no coincidence that I started using Amazon to buy gifts that year.) What was worse was that the store was constantly abuzz with stressed out workers and shoppers. Even early in the morning before we opened, the tensions of the day ahead hung heavy in the air. Relaxation was something you did after New Year’s, if you didn’t collapse under the pressure before then.
As much as it may seem that we’re only steps away from a time when Christmas promotions start on the day after Labor Day (and actually, some do already), I hold onto a glimmer of hope that the circus will end someday. Think that’s as impossible as World Peace in this overly connected world of ours? Maybe not. Although we’re able to be in constant communication, that doesn’t mean we have to be. And maybe the chance to disconnect from the mainstream and reconnect with what matters gives some of us reason enough to leave Black Friday, the day or the month, alone.