Black Friday is coming, and sooner than you think. Like, on Thursday.
The venerable tradition of shopping on Black Friday dates back to the early days of Plymouth Plantation, when the Pilgrims, their minds dulled from the aftereffects of food coma, spent their wampum profligately, trampling each other for the right to buy deerskin vests that had gone out of style, along with other strange and unnecessary gifts for family members. For their part, the Native Americans happily foisted their junk upon the Pilgrims, offering sizable discounts, two-for-one sales and extended trading post hours.
Actually, Black Friday is a much more recent creation. But since its birth, it has rapidly evolved, much like the Thanksgiving holiday itself. Thanksgiving’s identity has been forged in fits and starts—for example, everyone knows at least some version of the story of the first Thanksgiving feast, but the 1623 Thanksgiving was, in fact, a fast. As in, not eating. We can all be thankful that idea didn’t prove too popular.
If it had, we might not have what we recognize as our modern-day Thanksgiving traditions, including cranberries, stuffing and, one of my favorites, the presidential pardon of a holiday turkey, wherein one lucky bird gets to live while his fellow turkeys (his peeps, one might say) are cooked and eaten. Personally, I’d like to have the pardoned turkey earn his survival through a Hunger Games-style faceoff of randomly selected turkeys, but I might be in the minority on that one.
The nature of the Thanksgiving celebration has always reflected who we were, as a country, at that particular time. Shopping on Thanksgiving reflects who we are now.
Last year, a number of stores got their big sales started on Thanksgiving night, and this year some are opening their doors even earlier. Everyone seems to have an opinion about the steady expansion of day-after-Thanksgiving shopping. There are those who claim the increased emphasis on consumer goods takes away from “family time”; some people say that forcing retail employees to work on Thanksgiving is unfair (some go so far as to say immoral).
On the pro-shopping side, we have eager economists, looking for signs of economic life, who monitor Black Friday data as if they were Fantasy Football results; also, workers who specifically request Thanksgiving hours, seeking a chance to earn time and a half, and possibly the added bonus of escaping an awkward and uncomfortable family gathering.
I don’t remember when I first saw the term “Black Thursday” applied to Thanksgiving, but it didn’t last long—apparently, people didn’t take kindly to tarnishing the very optimistic-sounding “Thanksgiving” with the “black” paintbrush. And it’s true—for me, the term “Black” before a day of the week implies that some sort of apocalyptic financial crisis has occurred. One early “Black Thursday,” for example, was the beginning of the 1929 Wall Street Crash. But what better example of American fortitude, persistence and spending ability than taking a negative and making it a positive?
After the media backed down from “Black Thursday,” reports soon dubbed Thanksgiving “Gray Thursday” instead, which much better emphasizes that somber but thankful vibe the Puritans intended. This leaves us without names for the other days of the big shopping week, however, and as more and more retailers seek to distinguish themselves from the limited-hours crowd, surely further expansion of the shopping frenzy is inevitable. May I suggest “Stygian Saturday”? “Charcoal Tuesday”? Or even… “Ash Wednesday”?
Good luck out there, people, whatever shade your shopping day of choice might be. When I sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, I’ll be giving thanks that the stores are open, that people are spending money and charging up the economy. But most importantly, I’ll be thankful that I’m at home watching football.
Peter Dabbene lives and writes in Hamilton. His website is peterdabbene.com. His science-fiction graphic novel ARK (illustrated by Ryan Bayliss) can be ordered through Amazon.com, and his book Spamming the Spammers (with Dieter P. Bieny) is available through amazon.com and other online retailers. His poem “Cicadas (Brood II)” is currently viewable at the literary website Dead Snakes: deadsnakes.blogspot.com/2013/09/peter-dabbene-poem.html