Our Weird Capitalist Tradition: Black Friday

Holidays are interesting. They’re a weird mix of old and new traditions, some with bizarre customs that celebrate or commemorate things we don’t always understand or believe, if we even remember where they came from. I certainly don’t celebrate Christmas because it’s the birth of Jesus, since I wasn’t really raised in any one religion. My mom is Jewish and my dad is Catholic, so I celebrated the major holidays of both religions, such as Hanukah and Christmas, steeped more in tradition than faith. I like to say I’m not Jewish or Catholic, I’m Capitalist: I’m in it for the presents.

But as much as I joke about getting presents and being capitalist, I definitely don’t like how commercial we’re getting as a society. Today is the celebration of our capitalist society in all its glory: Black Friday. And I am happily NOT participating.

I used to shop on Black Friday with my mom. I’m not sure she liked it, because she hates dealing with the crowds and the parking. But she was happy to take me. It’s a fun way to spend some time with Mom (and frankly, her wallet), and there were often things I needed. Plus, I was usually visiting from out of town, so we had limited days to choose from to shop. The day after Thanksgiving makes perfect sense as a day to shop, because it’s a weekday but still a holiday, and I was with family. And with Thanksgiving, the last holiday before Christmas, now done, we can feel free to start prepping for Christmas without it feeling too early.

It was always a madhouse shopping on Black Friday when we went, but I think it’s gotten a lot worse in the last few years. In fact, it’s become such a tradition that the UK has it too, even though they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. I think what Black Friday has become is pretty disgusting. As stores open earlier and earlier—now opening on Thanksgiving night—the emphasis is even more about spending and consumerism than about being thankful and sharing time with family.

With some of the horror stories we hear on the news about people trampling each other at Black Friday sales, it’s even more disgusting. Why is anything so important that you have to line up hours before a store opens in order to buy something at a discount? Is it because money is so tight for people that they must save that extra 20 percent? Are the deals so good that they have to take advantage of them right then? I’m definitely not rolling in money, in fact I’m very concerned about it, but I don’t feel a need to fight with other people just to save a few dollars on an item that I probably don’t need anyway.

I assume some people like the rush of the shopping day, especially as it becomes more and more an extreme sport. I used to myself. It’s a little like going to a movie theatre on opening night of a big new release. There will be lots of other people there, and it’s a different experience when you have a live audience. Shopping on Black Friday can have the same effect of sharing the space and the experience with others, like some wacky community gathering. But at a movie, you’re all contained and in your proper seats, and the reactions are mostly just verbal and auditory. With shopping, it can get much more physical.

I hope that most people know what they’re in for with Black Friday and approach it with patience and courtesy. It can be a pleasant holiday experience if you mentally prepare yourself for the situation (that’s true of anything), i.e.: be prepared to park far from the store entrance and to deal with huge crowds and messy shelves. But I know that doesn’t always happen. I suspect some people go in it for the competition and the “winnings,” and are in a rush to get somewhere else (to the next big sale, perhaps). They won’t be patient waiting in line or will get frustrated with others while shopping, and those are the people who sap any potential fun out of it.

I don’t know how we could become less commercialistic as a society, if that’s what society as a whole would want. I don’t think boycotting stores on Black Friday or Thanksgiving helps. In fact, there were protests this year, for various reasons, and yet there were still an unprecedented number of shoppers taking advantage of the sales. I’m sure the stores wouldn’t have opened if they didn’t think people would shop. And it turns out, shopping today is less of a zoo because of the droves of people who went last night.

I do feel badly for the people who couldn’t spend time with their families because they had to work, but I hope that they at least had a choice in the matter and didn’t feel forced (either by the companies they work for or by their personal finances). It’s sad to think that Black Friday is so successful because there are people who need it for their personal finances: who need to work to earn money and who need the massive sales to afford any Christmas presents. But I’m sure that’s a part of what’s going on. Perhaps we can choose to frequent only those stores that give back to the community in some way. I do appreciate Small Business Saturday, though I don’t really take advantage of it either.

The truth is, I’m still so tripped out on tryptophan today that I’m tempted to go shopping just to wake myself up. But I know that is not wise, and I’m probably better off finding another way to wake up. As it is, my bedroom closet is beckoning me to clean it out before I buy any more presents I need to hide anyway.

How about you, readers? Are you partaking in any Black Friday madness today? Do you enjoy it, or do you avoid it like a sickness? Are you tired of the consumerism, or do you feel it’s necessary for our society?

2 thoughts on “Our Weird Capitalist Tradition: Black Friday

  1. gina

    As you may remember, John and I celebrate “Buy Nothing Day” on the day after Thanks Indians every year, and make a point to not spend any money that day.

    • Right, I do remember that. Good for you.
      Thanks for reading, Gina!

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