I am not much of a shopper. Malls and big box stores give me headaches. I prefer to shop on-line. One of the reasons I took my job at Messiah College in central Pennsylvania is because I do not like traffic. (I grew up in North Jersey and have lived in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Long Island so I know a thing or two about traffic). So as you might imagine I am not a big fan of “Black Friday.”
Yet I am interested in the history of “Black Friday.” When did the day after Thanksgiving become so wedded to consumerism? From the best that I can tell it all began in the 1920s when department stories such as Macy’s (New York), Gimbel’s (Philadelphia), and Eaton’s (Toronto) sponsored Thanksgiving Day parades to inaugurate Santa’s visit to the store. These parades went hand-in-hand with holiday sales. One of my favorite short discussions of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade is found in William Leach’s fabulous book, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of American Culture. (I should add that my favorite holiday movie, “Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street,” addresses these themes as well).
According to that source of all sources, Wikipedia, the term “Black Friday” was introduced in 1965 by a Philadelphia woman named Bonnie Taylor-Blake who worked for the American Dialect Society. She used the phrase to describe a day of traffic jams and shoppers in her home city. Ten years later, Philadelphia police and bus drivers used the phrase “Black Friday” to describe the day between Thanksgiving and the annual Army-Navy football game, a day when the city of brotherly-love was bustling with activity.
The anti-consumer group AdBusters has recently offered an alternative to the usual Black Friday activities. “Buy Nothing Day” is a national campaign to get people to stay home on the day after Thanksgiving. Though I would not consider myself an anti-consumer activist, I have done my best to celebrate this alternative holiday since I first learned about it a decade or so ago.
But what about gifts? I often wonder how many people, like myself, reject the consumer orgy of Black Friday but then continue to shop just like everyone else in the days leading up to Christmas. In browsing the Internet today I learned of an interesting approach that combines anti-consumerism and the Christian tradition of Christmas gift-giving. One Christian group has been promoting the day after Thanksgiving as “Make Something Day”. Jason Evans, the founder of this day, writes:
As Christians, the idea of gift giving is central to us. But buying gifts for each other that we don’t need while others go without basic human needs being met isn’t exactly what Jesus taught. And the amount of waste that Black Friday creates doesn’t seem to line up with scripture either.
However we approach the holiday shopping season, it seems to me that Americans must learn, particularly in difficult economic times, the virtue of thrift. As William Penn put it in the Fruits of Solitude:
FRUGALITY IS GOOD, if Liberality be join’d with it. The first is leaving off superfluous expenses; the last bestowing them to the Benefit of others that need.