Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Black Friday—or Black Hole?

 When Black Friday comes,

I’m gonna dig myself a hole,

Gonna lay down in it

Till I satisfy my soul.

                Steely Dan

For the past few weeks, when I open my email in the morning, I see a long, long list of messages with subject lines containing the words “Black Friday”—from department stores I shop in, from online businesses I’ve bought from, even from nonprofits (e.g. the Metropolitan Museum). No one, it seems, is above the hucksterism that’s taken over the day after Thanksgiving. To me this has become second only to (the month of) Halloween in overhyped, excessive, self-indulgent manufactured pseudo-“holidays” for the sole purpose of making money. The day has become a black hole that sucks the gentle gratitude of Thanksgiving and the good feeling of Christmas into it and grinds it into sawdust.

It has not always been like this. There was a time when most people—anyone remember?—actually worked on the Friday of Thanksgiving week. Even people who didn’t work in retail.

And truth be told, I was an early adopter of this shopping day—way back when, before it was given a name and an almost religious status.


When I was growing up, we usually had company for Thanksgiving. One or another set of aunts, uncles, cousins would drive up from New York or New Jersey to stay with us here in Rhode Island over the Thanksgiving weekend. On Friday my father went to work; school was out; and my mother, brother, and I would go shopping with our guests. My aunts especially enjoyed seeing stores they weren’t familiar with (before the days of cookie-cutter malls).

The day was a little busier than ordinary weekdays, but nothing like the near Gotterdammerung it is now. We browsed, maybe got some ideas for gifts but bought very little, looked at the decorations (which back then were not put up at the beginning of November), had lunch, visited another store or two, and went home to hot turkey sandwiches. It was a pleasant day and part of our own Thanksgiving tradition.

So what’s happened? When did this day explode into chaos? Was it the Cabbage Patch doll craze that first got people standing on lines through the night? Was that the first falling domino that led to stores opening earlier and earlier, until now many are opening on Thanksgiving itself? Is that what led to the crazy onslaught of advertising starting around Halloween?

I don’t know. Not having children, I was never under overwhelming pressure to be sure they got the absolute newest and most popular (i.e., most heavily advertised) toy every year. I never felt the “need” to stand sleepless and shivering in a line for hours before dawn. I remember a few other fads like that one, if not as crazy. I don’t think there’s been one in a long time, but the genie is out of the bottle now and can’t be put back.

I can’t help but imagine what people in other, poorer countries think of us when they hear about this insanity. Wonder why they don’t like us? Here’s one good reason. While they struggle every day for food, we fight each other to throw our money away on the latest completely unnecessary luxury item. They wait in lines for something to eat; we wait in lines for the newest tech gadget.

I’m afraid there’s no way to turn the clock back on this. “Buy-Nothing Day” has barely made a blip on the radar. I hope at least that people will listen to the message of “Small-Business Saturday” and save some of their money to spend in local shops. For my part I intend to stay right here in my warm, comfortable home, going nowhere, just crawling into that hole with Steely Dan and finding other ways to satisfy my soul.





  1. The emails start so danged early it's CRAZY! I used to always shop with my mom because my dad worked, too, although he worked on Thanksgiving, as well, but anyway, we went to the mall - walked for hours - enjoyed our time together and it was never the kind of mayhem there is today. Camping out? What on EARTH!?!

    I hope you enjoy your holiday and your not-black-Friday! Happy Saturday shopping, though, love that day. :)

  2. Rarely ever go out on Black Friday. Friday has always been part of Thanksgiving for us and we spend it at home or with friends. The emails I add to my junk filter. Today, TV Guide called to ask for another 2 year subscription when we have one already to the end of next year. I sent them packing. Instead we spent money to help feed the hungry. Maureen

  3. Black Friday isn't really a thing here in Canada - just another normal workday - but that doesn't stop the flow of e-mail for online shopping! Honestly, I can't imagine setting foot in a store in the US on Black Friday - just doesn't appeal to me in the slightest.

  4. I know what you mean! Didn't you see on the news about the madness in the UK with people fighting in the shops? And tomorrow is the Cyber Monday, is there room in that hole of yours?

  5. I agree. Retailers are now trying to invade on Thanksgiving Day by opening up in the evening, and forcing workers to leave their family gatherings to go to work. What could be soooo important? If you think about it, you hardly ever remember what you received as gifts the previous Christmas but you always remember the people you are with - that seems to be the most important thing. I enjoy your blog!

  6. Thanks for your kind comment on my blog. I too miss my mom very much. Hope you have a happy holiday season!