Or, how a holiday celebrating friends and family became an exercise in crass commercialism.
The confluence of Thanksgiving Day and the beginning of the holiday shopping season is pretty much a second-half-of-the-20th-century phenomenon, spurred by the burgeoning consumer economy that took off following the end of World War II. The Friday after Thanksgiving became “Black Friday” originally in 1961, coined by some disgruntled Philadelphia police officers who grew to hate the downtown traffic jams created by shoppers. It was only in the 1980s that the term took on a economic meaning: Success on this day sends retail businesses into the “black.” Big box retailers attract shoppers with deep discounts on popular gift items, discounts only available on Black Friday.
In this century, Black Friday just keeps creeping forward: 6 am on Friday morning, midnight on Friday morning, 8 pm on Thursday night, 5 pm on Thursday, to the absolute nadir (in this writer’s opinion) of 6 am on Thanksgiving morning. Kmart owns this dubious honor for 2013 and is repeating it this year. Of course, there’s a name for this: Brown Thursday or Gray Thursday.
Small Business Saturday
Using an if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em philosophy, smaller retailers gave into the Black Friday juggernaut in 2010, redirecting shoppers away from the big box stores by creating their own shopping “event,” Small Business Saturday. Sure, this event says, you’ll probably want to take advantage of those big sales at the big boxes, but -- while you’re still in the shopping zone -- wouldn’t you like to support a local business too? And many of these retailers (not all of them small businesses) can’t resist a poke at those open on Thanksgiving Day: We pride ourselves on letting our employees enjoy a day off with their families.
Portland, being Portland, has created its own version of Small Business Saturday: Little Boxes. Shoppers are gently encouraged to “welcome in the holiday season by discovering the quality and variety of Portland’s indie and local retail shopping scene.” Only in Portland do we have an “indie” shopping scene. Still, there are prizes.
Buy Nothing Day
A countermovement to Black Friday’s unfettered consumerism sprung up in the 1990s with Buy Nothing Day, created in Canada and spreading to the United States and elsewhere in the West over the past 20 years. Its founders encourage waggish bits of civil disobedience such as “whirl-mart” -- a conga line of empty shopping carts making its way through a mall or big box store (see video) -- and the “zombie walk” -- staggering through retail establishments with a blank stare.
For those of you who prefer to spend that Friday enjoying a roast turkey sandwich, some leftover pumpkin pie and a good book, here’s a reading list about shopping (or not) in America. And never fear, the library will be open!