Friday, November 08, 2013

Black Friday is coming...

It's November. Here in the US, we're less than three weeks out from Thanksgiving, and all I'm hearing is about the holiday.

Or not.

Oh, we're hearing about a holiday here, all right. But it isn't that day that we get together and eat and watch football games (well, some of us - I don't do football), and maybe even think about the "first Thanksgiving" in 1621 at Plymouth Colony, which was probably not historically the first time a feast for giving thanks was held in the American colonies, which some people believe was manufactured for patriotic or religious reasons anyway, and which, in any case, was not proclaimed a national holiday until 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, right in the middle of the Civil War. And it wasn't even Lincoln's idea; he was moved, it is said, to proclaim the holiday after a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale (who also wrote or co-wrote - depending on which story you buy - "Mary Had A Little Lamb").

But, no matter its origin, Thanksgiving has held on from it's proclamation in 1621 until today. Which is kind of a minor miracle, considering the angst that surrounds it due to the fact that some people think it is right up there with Columbus Day as a holiday celebrating the colonial impulse and the subjugation and genocide of the Native American peoples Columbus, and then the colonists, wrought here. Well, Americans let very little get between themselves and their eating holidays, so that's probably part of the reason we still spend all that money and time preparing a feast that then promptly gets demolished in less than an hour, even if we do feel bad about how the Native Americans were treated by some of our forefathers and foremothers.

Not my foremothers and forefathers, by the way. As far as I know I'm generations away from being able to trace any ancestors back to the colonies; all of my mother's relatives that we know anything about did not come to the United States until sometime after the Civil War and my dad's family didn't get here until after World War I. My father's immediate family - him, his mother and his father - did not get here until early 1925, when my dad was two and a half years old.

There are those who have proposed that Thanksgiving be turned from a day of feasting and thanks into a Day of National Atonement and fasting. I suspect that however well-meant that idea is, not many people are going to buy into it. Maybe as a separate day, but not as a replacement for turkey, pumpkin pie, and sports.

However, Thanksgiving has apparently been at least partly supplanted by the holiday I've heard much more about this year than Turkey Day itself. That Holiday is Black Friday, the ultimate American holiday, celebrating naked capitalism at its most mercenary.

Black Friday, as far as I have been able to tell, has been getting far more attention this year than Thanksgiving has. This is partly because it is starting to creep forward into Thanksgiving Day itself. There has been a great deal of publicity, and more than a little disapproval, about the fact that this year K-Mart is planning on keeping its stores open on Thanksgiving Day itself, opening at 8 p.m. on Thursday.

I'm not sure why this is such a big deal this year. Wal-Mart did that last year, and other chain stores, such as Sears and Target plan to open at either 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. on Thursday. This comes after years of competing stores opening earlier and earlier, first at 5 or 6 a.m. on Friday before pushing opening hours to 4 a.m. or earlier, with some stores last year opening at midnight.

The retail community supports this madness by citing numbers showing that retail stores make most of their money during the Christmas shopping season. Every year, the companies and others issue predictions about how much they expect sales to rise from the year before, and shoppers are urged to get out and do their part to push those numbers up. And, as statistics and news reports show, shoppers are happy to comply, sometimes camping out for hours before the stores are scheduled to open. And they take their shopping very seriously - in the past few years there have been arrests, assaults, shootings and even deaths by trampling during Black Friday shopping.

I think this is all nuts. Even when I could afford it, I never shopped on Black Friday. In fact, I've always made it a point not to spend any money at all if I can help it on the day after Thanksgiving. I'll be honest...I like my sleep too much to get up at the butt-crack of dawn or earlier to go stand in like in the dark and cold just to make sure that retailers can report a good bottom line in their fiscal fourth quarter. I also don't like being told that if I don't participate in this holiday - in Black Friday - then I'm not doing my patriotic duty to keep retailers rolling in the dough. It's their job to generate sales, not mine.

I'm certainly not going to tell anybody who wants to get up in the cold and dark and go shopping not to do so. I am going to say that you should only do that if you really want to, and that you shouldn't let the retailers guilt you into participating. You also shouldn't fall for the "great bargains" that some retailers offer without saying that they are only offering a limited (and very small) number of particular items at the advertised price and that most shoppers are not likely to be able to get those items at that very good price. That's called "bait and switch" where I come from.

My plan is to enjoy Thanksgiving quietly and then sleep late on Black Friday and spend the rest of the day reading and writing and working on the handmade gifts that I intend to give. Oh, and on Thursday having my annual listen to "Alice's Restaurant", the only Thanksgiving song I know. That seems a much more sane way to spend my time on those days.

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