Thanksgiving is on the brink of extinction. At the rate we're going, the next generation will refer to it as Pre-Christmas. Remember when people actually put up Thanksgiving decorations, like a cornucopia or some fake fall leaves? These days Thanksgiving signifies it's time to decorate the tree. However, the most disturbing sign of Thanksgiving's eminent downfall is a cultural phenomenon known as Black Friday.
Black Friday started sneaking into the American psyche over the past few decades in the form of "After Thanksgiving Day Sales." The idea, as far as I can tell, was to provide the opportunity to buy holiday gifts at deep discounts. Those sales did so well, and have now become so common, that the entire day is simply referred to as Black Friday. On this fateful day, big-box stores open at ungodly hours, some opening at midnight, others at three or four o'clock in the morning; traffic near malls and other shopping complexes grows hopelessly congested; and people wake before daybreak to form mobs at store entrances, often trampling one another when they finally charge inside. (For many people, such as my family, this has accomplished the opposite of the intended effect--we see Black Friday as a sort of House Arrest Day, when you avoid venturing out into the madness at all costs.) Some say the term "Black Friday" was coined by frustrated shoppers. I say it originated with the embittered, overworked retail employees at the big-box stores who hold these chaotic events.
I wonder how many shoppers pause to ask themselves how it would feel to be the person ringing up all their discounted merchandise at the crack of dawn. It's one thing to voluntarily get up at daybreak because you want to buy something. It's another to get up at daybreak because you have to run the cash register. For people who have to drive any substantial distance to see their families, getting a Black Friday shift often means they can't celebrate Thanksgiving with their families at all. The CEOs of large chain stores might make a killing on Black Friday, but the sleep-deprived clerk swiping your credit card probably won't see a penny of that.
The gap between wealthy and poor in America is already widening at breakneck speed. As Christmas encroaches on Thanksgiving, we're divided into people who get to celebrate holidays and people who don't. When did this happen?
Social injustice aside, however, the most annoying aspect of Black Friday are the people who act like they have no choice but to form a mob on the sidewalk. "I just can't afford a new HDTV any other way," they plead desperately. The thing is, I've never seen any necessities discounted for Black Friday--if someone offered half-price groceries, I might join the mob charging the doors. But no. Black Friday discounts usually apply to things like laptops and iPods and cashmere sweaters. My grandparents survived the Great Depression by sewing feedsack dresses; we're surviving our recession by nabbing our flat-screens at 50% off.
Maybe someday we'll regale our grandchildren with tales of how we got in our SUVs and drove uphill both ways in the snow, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, just to get a new Wii. I'm sure they'll be enthralled by how trying our lives were. Then they'll wish us a merry Pre-Christmas and hop in their flying cars to go shopping with their friends.