Forget Giving Thanks and Look for Black Friday Specials

By Karla Fetrow

Neither the Grinch nor the Scrooge will ever successfully steal Christmas.  For better or worse, it’s the time when pocketbooks are emptied out the most, when wish lists become demand lists, and our homes become crowded with items that next spring will be cleared out in garage sales.  There is no cure for America’s binge spending, nor frankly, do American businesses , the tourism industry or even the energy companies that receive a huge spike in electrical use during the blinking lights festival, wish to change this policy of extravagant family gatherings.  However, these same conglomerates of commercial enterprise have no qualms about shelving Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving has taken a bizarre turn over the years.  Wedged between Halloween and Christmas, it’s only real gimmick is, “buy more food”.  When times were affluent, this was enough.  There were enough proceeds from costume buying and candy overdoses to keep cash registers humming while the racks were slowly being pushed aside to make room for waxed fruits, horns of plenty, cut out turkeys and pilgrim shaped candles.

When times were such that people actually placed some sort of meaning into the Thanksgiving celebration, this was enough.  They were times of plenty and it felt good to open up your home to a neighbor living alone, or donate to the poor family down the streets.  Depending on your degree of patriotic sentiment, Thanksgiving was a time to remember a struggling group of settlers sitting down to give thanks for their first bounty on new soil, or a time for the men to saturate themselves in television football while the women competed in the kitchen for the best pumpkin pie.

The problem with Thanksgiving however, is people always have to buy food, so in times when things are not so affluent, the simple buying of food is not enough to satisfy a plunging stock market.  Retailers have always recognized this problem with Thanksgiving.  Long before the month of November is out and all the ballerina and pirate costumes on the clearance rack have been sold, Christmas begins pushing its announcements of pressurized shopping days.  While trying to fill a shopping list of sweet potatoes, stuffing mix, walnuts, fruits and vegetable trays, Christmas stares back at you with candy canes, paper rolls, ornaments and plastic greenery.  The hand hesitates.  Should Thanksgiving be dwindled down a little bit to make more allowance for Christmas?

Businesses have said we should. Thanksgiving has been slowly and carefully nudged aside for that biggest, most spectacular day of all, according to corporate interests; Black Friday.  The day after Thanksgiving has long been held as the most lucrative shopping day of all, but it wasn’t until 2006 that it actually became number one.  An aggressive Internet and retail campaign drove the date to the spotlight.  Before then, the last weekend before Christmas was usually when the most shopping activity was seen.

The significance of this doesn’t fail the eyes of the avid Thanksgiving celebrant.  The grandiose preparations for turduckens and flaming puddings are sifted aside for catering services, the family recipes dwindle in place of instant mixes and ready bake rolls, and grandma looks forward to an evening out in a restaurant instead of adding her expertise to the kitchen.  The competition for best dish is over.  All eyes are on a clock that tells them when they can let go of their thankfulness to reap  the true fruits of their yearly blessings; bargain hunters shopping time.

Black Friday.  Somewhere in my childhood, there was a connotation that Black Friday represented somber, tragic events.  In some Christian religions, the Friday before Easter was sometimes called Black Friday instead of Good Friday as it symbolized the crucifying of their Savior.  When rummaging through modern history, the first American recognition of Black Friday was in 1869 and represented the day when two speculators attempted to corner the gold market.  It was during the reconstruction phase of the Civil War.  The United States had issued a great deal of money based solely on credit, with the populace believing they would be paid back in gold.  Seeking to profit off this, James Fisk and Jay Gould secured a friendship with the U.S. Treasurer, who agreed to tip them off when the government began selling gold.  In the meantime, they began buying as much gold as possible on the free market, artificially raising the price.  When the government began selling gold, the price plummeted, causing a general panic.  Investors scrambled to sell off their holdings.  Many were financially ruined, while Fisk and Gould suffered very little damage.

In 1966, the term resurfaced.  Their Thanksgiving feast over and fortified with a few extra pounds around their middles, holiday observers became suddenly conscious of the count down to wish list checking Christmas.  While day after Thanksgiving shoppers flooded the streets, so did the dark coated law enforcement agents as they attempted to keep the congested crowds moving, untangled traffic jams and coped with the inevitable accidents.  Black Friday, stated the Philadelphia Police Department in 1966, is not a term of endearment to them.  In an article run by the Titusville Herald in the same year, the author states, “Store aisles were jammed. Escalators were nonstop people. It was the first day of the Christmas shopping season and despite the economy, folks here went on a buying spree. … “That’s why the bus drivers and cab drivers call today ‘Black Friday,'” a sales manager at Gimbels said as she watched a traffic cop trying to control a crowd of jaywalkers. “They think in terms of headaches it gives them.”

Financial analysts disagreed with the negative implications.  In the 1980’s a new theory emerged;  that many businesses operate at a loss – in the red – until the day after Thanksgiving. They protested that Black Friday should be seen as a positive influence.  It meant these businesses were now operating in the black; making a profit.

The idea took hold.  Stores began announcing Black Friday specials, enticing shoppers to line up at their doors hours before opening in the hopes of buying the best bargains of the year.  The term Black Friday has warped into an example of an Orwellian nightmare.  The history of Black Friday origins is buried away in the back files of faulty memory, bringing to life only the manifestations of the moment.  The somber has become the cheerful click of cash registers and the negative has become the positive.  Once inside the stores, a frenzy begins.  The big cash item draws are limited, and people are often injured or trampled in their attempts to grab the best bargains.  On Friday, November 28, 2008, a Walmarts clerk was trampled to death by shoppers who broke through a window just minutes before the store was to open.  A pregnant woman was hospitalized and lost her baby through a miscarriage.  That same day, two people were shot and killed in a Toys R Us store in Palm Desert, California during an argument.

This year, strategic shoppers are willing to forfeit their Thanksgiving dinners to sit out the wait in front of their favorite stores for the grand Black Friday opening.  The thankfulness is prolonged for the anticipation of greater thanks for items purchased at a fraction of their original cost at risk of life or limb, and the sacrifice of a holiday that was meant to symbolize shared appreciation of the bounties bestowed by hard work and mutual cooperation.

It’s probably no co-incidence that the frenzy of Black Friday shopping has risen as the economy has slumped.  A desperation has taken hold to guild the traditionally free spending Christmas days with sales slashed items and economically comfortable limited editions.  There is a bright spot.  This year, some stores have announced that online shoppers can place in their bids for those glorious bargains on Thanksgiving Day.  While this may not keep the women in the kitchen, basting turkeys, it will keep them at home, hopefully to appear occasionally from their computers to see if the bakery service has arrived with their pies yet.  It will also be a more enjoyable experience for the dads who have to battle with their kids each year as to what should be watched by the family on television.  All they have to do is give the kids their Christmas spending allotment money in an Internet gift card.  The dads will be relieved of duty from taking their kids shopping for the rest of the month, and the kids will be busy cyber bargaining as the men spend their Thanksgiving comfortably watching the football games.

It says something about us as a society.  Squeezed between two holidays with origins in pagan rituals that have been celebrated with enthusiasm because they symbolized fun, the hectic pace of keeping up with the obligatory costumes, candies and gifts has diminished the importance of Thanksgiving, a custom whose roots lay in our first colonial ancestors and the intense gratification they felt for their survival.  As we watch our clocks and schedule our plans, we put aside our reasons for being thankful.  We list only our failures; the housing crisis, inadequate budgets, health issues; leaving out the bonding of friends and family, the small victories, the random acts of kindness that impacted our lives.  As a community, both globally and nationally, we are going through turbulent times.  Accusations, distrust, misunderstandings and rumors dominate the air waves.  Our situation is not unique.  The crisis destabilizing economies today, occurred in the past, with similar tactics to keep sales bolstered.  What is unique is the slow dissolution of a day that was once put aside as a period of national unity in thankfulness.  Black Friday, as the most important shopping day of the year has overtaken the significance of that early colonial celebration.  When given the choice between communal gathering or buying fabulous items at cut rate prices, America chooses to give up Thanksgiving.  It’s difficult in these hectic times when every hour is valuable, to take a pause and reappraise our priorities, but whether we wish to cling to old colonialist ties or not, we should always put one day a  year aside to be thankful.

About karlsie

Some great perversity of nature decided to give me a tune completely out of keeping with the general symphony; possibly from the moment of conception. I learned to read and speak almost simultaneously. The blurred and muffled world I heard through my first five years of random nerve loss deafness suddenly came alive with the clarity of how those words sounded on paper. I had been liberated for communications. I decided there was nothing more wonderful than writing. It was easier to write than carefully modulate my speech for correct pronunciation, and it was easier to read than patiently follow the movements of people’s lips to learn what they were saying. It was during that dawning time period, while I slowly made the connection that there weren’t that many other people who heard the way I did, halfway between sound and music, half in deafness, that I began to understand that the tune I was following wasn’t quite the same as that of my classmates. I was just a little different. General education taught me not only was I just a little isolated from my classmates, my home was just a little isolated from the outside world. I was born in Alaska, making me part of one of the smallest, quietest minorities on earth. I decided I could live with this. What I couldn’t live with was discovering a few years later, in the opening up of the pipeline, which coincided with my first year of junior college, that there were entire communities of people; more than I could possibly imagine; living impossibly one on top of another in vast cities. It wasn’t even the magnitude of this vision that inspired me so much as the visitors who came from these populous regions and seemed to possess a knowledge so great and secretive I could never learn it in any book. I became at once, very conscious of how rural I was and how little I knew beyond the scope of my environment. I decided it was time to travel. The rest is history; or at least, the content of my stories. I traveled... often to college campuses, dropping in and out of school until one fine day by chance I’d fashioned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology. I’ve worked a couple of newspapers, had a few poems and stories tossed around in various small presses, never receiving a great deal of money, which I’m assured is the norm for a writer. I spent ten years in Mexico, watching the peso crash. There is some obscure reason why I did this, tightening up my belt and facing hunger, but I believe at the time I said it was for love. Here I am, back home, in my beloved Alaska. I’ve learned somewhat of a worldly viewpoint; at least I like to flatter myself that way. I’ve also learned my rural roots aren’t so bad after all. I work in a small, country store. Every day I greet the same group of local customers, but make no mistake. My store isn’t a scene out of Andy Griffith. The people who enter the establishment, which also includes showers, laundry and movie rentals, are miners, oil workers, truck drivers, construction engineers, dog sled racers and carpenters. Sometimes, on the liquor side, the conversations became adult only in vocabulary. It’s a good thing, on the opposite side of the store is a candy aisle filled with the most astonishing collection, it will keep a kid occupied with just wishing for hours. If you tell your kids they can have just one, you have an instant baby sitter; better than television; as they agonize over their choice while you catch up on the gossip with your neighbor. We also receive a lot of tourists, a lot of foreign visitors. They are usually amazed at this first sign of Alaskan rural life style beyond the insulating hub of the Anchorage bowl. Many of them like to hang around and chat. They gawk at our thieves wanted posters. They laugh at our jokes and camaraderie with our customers. I’ve learned another lesson while working there. You don’t have to go out and find the world. If you wait long enough, it comes to you.

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10 Comments on “Forget Giving Thanks and Look for Black Friday Specials”

  1. So many of us spend so little time being grateful for having *enough*. Heck most people forget to be grateful when they have more until something catastrophic happens.

    It is one of the most beautiful things I can find in some religions, the daily meditation and bearing of thanks in whatever form. Sometimes it seems silly this call to prayer, this ritualized talking to something not quite known, however the speaking out loud of our gratitude is something good that comes of this.

    In any case it does not take religion to direct this and we should daily stop and be grateful for so many overlooked things.
    Good Article.

  2. Well, first I think this was a well constructed arguement – we as a people – for the most part have forgotten to give thanks. No, we will all not become rich or successful, life does not deal her cards that way – sad to say. Still it is important to recognize what we have rather than what we do not have- there well might be a reason for our own short comings. Nothing good comes of blameing someone else, we dig our own holes and hope someone else will bury us. I for one do not shop on ‘Black Friday’; after 20 years in retail I’ve seen the ugly side of our people and for the most part I say no thanks – I’ll keep my money in my pocket.

  3. Guy, your response made me laugh. You said in such few words a thought that often runs through my head. Only the most self absorbed and bitter would have excuses not to be thankful.

    Grainne and Kenn, i hesitated a little while writing this article because the origins of the Thanksgiving holiday are not completely complacent with history. However, i feel it’s the symbolism that needs to be kept; a spirit of unity between family, friends and community. It takes me three days to prepare for a Thanksgiving feast, yet during that time period, the work involved isn’t done grudgingly. It’s a labor of love, and i feel joyously thankful when the guests begin arriving at my doorstep. They are all guests of honor, whether they are family or friends. They have chosen to spend this day in communal activities rather than join the shopping lines of the wild Black Friday bargain hunt opening day. Materialism, the plague that accompanied the commercialization of Christmas, has beaten back the significance of holding a day for thanksgiving.

  4. Good job, K. Excellent coverage of the commercialization of Thanksgiving. In my opinion though, it’s an awful holiday with horrific origins and an even more disgusting progression throughout history. Personally, I give thanks every day and don’t need a turkey-killing day to remind me of my obligations.

  5. As for Black Friday…lol now this really is the most sincere American holiday ever invented. They really should go all out for Black Friday and make it a national holiday complete with a money-grubbing Andrew Jackson as a character mascot.

  6. Mitch, i know about your adversity to the holidays. While they are wrapped in pagan symbols, the very fact that their exercise lies in antiquity shows how long people have been engaged in celebratory rituals, and how unlikely this joyful show of celebration will end. It wouldn’t matter if all holidays were suddenly dissolved (which incidentally would mean there would be no official recognition of disruption in the work days) there would still be people observing their traditional celebrations.

    I think the problem is, many people don’t know how to celebrate anymore. There are those who study the origins, and because the history wasn’t perfect, they are jaded and lose their taste for the occasion, instead of examining exactly what the symbols meant to them, individually. They accept that their feeble grandma was living a lie, even though they love her dearly, and can’t deny that her eyes sparkled when the family came together for a festive occasion.

    Then there are those who associate the holidays with the things they can afford to buy for them. They measure holiday success by material coverage. They can’t imagine that the day could be joyous without the exact accessories. Many of these formulated celebrants begin to see the holidays as an obligation, nothing more.

    Making a joyful noise is encouraged in all religions, and is as natural a human emotion as despair or wonder. I don’t discourage any of the holidays, but i do feel people should be honest with their most intimate feelings. If an occasion, with all its symbols, means nothing to them, there is no true point in the celebration. It is then, nothing more than a glut feast, with no spirit of thankfulness.

  7. A national day of thankfulness I wouldn’t be opposed to. But the positive Pilgrim/Indian association is just too much of a lie for me to accept. That and the turkey killing. It’s just a holiday in bad taste overall. I know what you mean though, and nothing’s more important than family.

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