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Black Friday is Destroying Thanksgiving

2-for-1 cornucopias!

Here in the U.S., tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a holiday where everybody gets together to celebrate the things for which we are thankful (but mostly family and food). It has its dubious origins in the meeting of Europeans and Native Americans, but nowadays, it's more about turkey, pumpkin pie, and meeting that Great Aunt Twice Removed you never knew you had. However, though the holiday is tomorrow, more and more people--including several friends of mine--are celebrating it today, the day before it is official. The reason is the paradoxical event that occurs immediately after we give thanks for our bounties in life: Black Friday, which now starts on Thursday and goes through the weekend.

In case you don't know what I'm talking about, the term "Black Friday" originates with Philadelphia and New York City in the early 1960's, when the high volume of post-Thanksgiving traffic--both pedestrian and vehicle--became utterly unmanageable by city officials. (There are other urban legends about the origin of the term as it applies to the day after Thanksgiving, but trust me, it has nothing to do with stores "being in the black" or with the sale of slaves in the Eighteenth Century.) The term didn't gain nationwide notoriety until a decade or two later, but now it's become an international phenomenon, even though its precursor, Thanksgiving, is a uniquely American holiday. Around the world, at least in places where consumerism thrives, Black Friday marks a time where people go on a spending blitz, taking advantage of ludicrous sales to get a head start on their holiday gift shopping.

Without delving too deeply into politics here, I am a fan of capitalism and consumerism, because I think they lead to a more prosperous society, albeit at the cost of a certain amount of superficiality and the proliferation of soulless advertising. However, Black Friday is taking it too far, and every year it seems to metastasize into a bigger and bigger cancer, chewing away at Thanksgiving, a holiday that is, in essence, the antithesis of Black Friday.

black friday mob
No reward is worth this

It used to be just one day, as the name implies, but then rabid consumers started camping out in front of shops so early that the line started forming on late Thursday night. Shops eager to capitalize on this eagerness started opening earlier and earlier, until they were opening on Thursday night, extending their one-day sales into Thanksgiving. It wasn't long before people were rushing through their cornbread stuffing in order to abandon their family so they could stand out in the cold with hundreds of like-minded shoppers.

A few years back, online retailers started getting in on the action, and tried to make "Cyber Monday" a thing. Instead of becoming a separate shopping day, though, Cyber Monday was assimilated into Black Friday, and now Black Friday covers the entire weekend, all the way through Monday night. Lately, many stores have decided to stretch their Black Friday sales through an entire week, with some threatening to take it even further.

The thing is, for the most part, Black Friday sales aren't much better than sales you can get any other time of the year, if you know what you're doing. On top of that, the crowds have gotten so massive and so rabid that there are stories every year of people getting trampled in the stampede to get into a freshly open store. There are even violent altercations over parking spaces, places in line, and grabbing the last of a stocked item. Several people have died over the years, and many more have wound up in hospitals.

War weary
Your average Wal-Mart employee the week after Black Friday

This doesn't even take into account the poor sods who have to work at these stores. Nowadays, if you work retail, you are all but mandated to go to work on Black Friday, and to work the longest and hardest hours of your year. I know, because I've done it. It's absolutely brutal, and believe me, you can't work a store on Black Friday and come away believing anything but the worst about your fellow man. Worse yet, many of the big stores require their employees to work the day before (which, I remind you, is Thanksgiving Day), just to prepare for the coming storm.

But you can take it even further. Think of the truck drivers who have to take things to the store. Think of the police officers who have to spend valuable resources on breaking up the violence that inevitably takes place. Think of a Fire Department that must cope with every store in the city violating maximum occupancy requirements. Think of what it must be like in a hospital emergency room across the street from a mall.

police at Walmart
More intense police presence than at the Super Bowl

All for what, a brief spike in consumer spending? Though I don't have any numbers in front of me to prove it, I imagine the economic, physical, and psychological damages done by the insanity of Black Friday outweigh the benefits.

Perhaps this is just the rant of a curmudgeon. After all, if Black Friday were as bad as all that, why would it remain so popular? I know I can't stop people from choosing to partake in this utter insanity, but I can at least offer a meager suggestion to you, my dear readers. Don't do this. Spend the long weekend with your family--assuming you can--and give thanks for the plentiful land we live in. Don't spend it studying the Black Friday catalogues and making lists of all the things you "need" to buy. If there's one time of year where we should put our consumer impulses aside and recognize how lucky we are, it's Thanksgiving. I, for one, would rather give thanks for what I have than trample people for stuff I don't need.

-e. magill 11/25/2015

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