Black Friday Anarchy and the Must-Buys

For the life of me, I can’t understand what would motivate anyone to take part in the mayhem retailers refer to as Black Friday.

Many of those who faithfully make the early-morning pilgrimage to their favorite stores talk about how much fun they have with a group of friends or family. They tout their incredible bargains and try to suck the rest of us in by saying things like, “It’s almost a festival atmosphere—everyone’s having such a great time.”

Carnival barkers in the making, the lot of them.

Although one could say I have all my days off as a stay-at-home mama, I still enjoy a day with no outside obligations when it comes my way. Why on earth would I want to start my day off by getting up at an ungodly hour, jockeying for parking space at an overcrowded store or mall, and fighting strangers for the limited number of bargain items per store? In many cases, these people have been outside the store overnight to improve their chances of getting one of the three available doorbuster items before they’re gone. I’m not that aggressive. I don’t stand a chance against professionals like these.

I don’t even like fighting strangers for things I really want. Each summer, our local library system has a wonderful book sale when they purge everything that hasn’t been checked out in recent months. Believe it or not, they get rid of many classics—most likely due to the popularity of “fluff” fiction and paperback bodice-rippers—and those discarded classics belong in my house. I just know it. However, I’ve found myself avoiding the sale over the past two years. Why? Because when I’m in a situation that screams, “Every man for himself!” that’s when Mean Lynda begins to emerge. I might not say anything outwardly, but I begin to fume at the people who grab books out of my hands, glance at them, and then toss them all over the tables, willy-nilly (love that word), leaving them even more disorganized for the next person. I still won’t fight for it. I’ll just hate you if you’re one of “them.” Go ahead, block the aisle with the folding chair you brought along, so you can plant yourself in front of the books you won’t allow others to see until you’re finished browsing; park your rolling cart in the narrowest part of the walkway—because why wouldn’t someone wish to retrace their steps 25 feet to change aisles, rather than slip past you? Go ahead and encourage your children to run all over, picking up books and putting them down in random spots so no one else will find that excellent copy of Great Expectations buried under the self-help magazines. I’ll be at home, reading the books I already own, knowing that one-dollar-bargain hardcover is not worth the gladiator techniques I’d need to learn to win it.

Where was I? Ahh . . . back to the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday shopping can be done online, if the urge to shop gets too strong. The downside: if I’m wrapped up in the computer, looking for bargains, I’m every bit as absent as those who go to the brick & mortar stores that day. The upside: it’s not as tiring, and I can walk away from it anytime I want and be “present” again immediately with my family.

Online shopping can still provide some decent bargains, most of them with no shipping fee. In fact, distance of my house from shopping areas + cost of gasoline = less than most shipping fees, anyway.  There are always coupon codes available somewhere to make it all worthwhile. As someone who hates to shop as a general rule, the online thing works very well for me: I’m at home; I can browse all over the world for unique items; shopping at midnight in my pjs is no big deal if that’s when I have the time.

Now retailers are upping the ante, because Black Friday crack-of-dawn sales are not enough: Thanksgiving Night pre-Friday has taken over, at first starting with “midnight madness” deals which have now progressed to 8 p.m. and 6 p.m. store openings. ON THANKSGIVING DAY. Old Navy is open on Thanksgiving until 4 p.m. and will reopen a scant three hours later at 7 p.m. Wow. Three whole hours spent with the family, all stuffing themselves as quickly as possible to accommodate the time crunch for the hapless family member who happens to be employed there. And Staples, opening  8 p.m. – midnight? How many people are going to get up from the Thanksgiving table to storm the doors of the office supply store to get those bargain pencils and manila folders?

What’s wrong with taking an entire day (an entire day!) to spend at home with family? Or even a day at home alone, relaxing? Don’t like your family and don’t want to be alone? How about serving others by helping at the local City Mission?

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving dinner was an hours-long event. We’d eat, of course, but the dinner itself was only a prequel to the enjoyable after-time with everyone. We’d often play cards or board games after dinner with my grandma, hoping to soon feel hungry enough to eat the variety of desserts. One of my favorite memories of my grandma is the Thanksgiving we taught her to play Risk. She started off enthusiastically enough, but when over an hour had passed, she began discreetly tossing her game pieces on the floor under the table so she could just lose and get the heck away from the table. She feigned ignorance, of course, when my uncle happened to notice the pile of game parts, saying, “Oh, is that where those went?” as if she hadn’t been systematically slipping them off the table’s edge every three or four minutes. I wouldn’t trade that experience for 50% off anything a store could provide.

When I was in high school, I witnessed the beginning of the must-have Christmas gifts: the Cabbage Patch doll. Our next-door neighbor tried for weeks to buy one for her daughter, going from store to store. Who decided these ugly, ugly dolls were necessary for a child’s happiness? They were seriously ugly. I can not stress that enough. And don’t tell me you had one and thought it was adorable, because I won’t believe you. You might have thought it was adorable, because the retailers told you that you loved it. But if you had looked at it, eye to glass eye—really looked—you would have seen it was no different than any other cheap doll, except it had a face only a mother could love.

As an adult, I never really paid attention to what was trendy; we shopped for things we knew our kids would enjoy. When a relative gave our then-two-year-old son a Tickle Me Elmo for his birthday (two months before Christmas), she made sure to tell us as he opened his gift that it was “the hot item” that year. He was not impressed; he was frightened of it. He hugged it, and Elmo began to giggle loudly while trembling and vibrating. Our son dropped it like a rock and ran away while Elmo continued his furry red seizure activity for almost 30 seconds. The most action that toy got was when our older son threw up on it. A month later, Christmas time, those crazy things were selling for hundreds of dollars. My husband and I briefly entertained the idea of putting an “only puked on once” ad in the newspaper but were almost afraid someone would take us up on it.

I can only hope retailers fall flat this year with their “I can open earlier than you can” plans. Families have a difficult enough time of it, trying to coordinate work schedules so they can get together at all. Webster’s defines “holiday” as “a day on which one is exempt from work; specifically a day marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event.”  A holiday should be exactly that. For everyone, retailers included. Stop pushing the message that getting a bargain purchase is more important than all else.

I can’t help but think of the movie “Jingle All the Way,” in which Arnold Schwarzenegger spends the entire day of Christmas Eve in search of a Turbo Man doll—the hot item of the season—for his son. It’s the first Christmas movie we watch each year, on the day after Thanksgiving, and it’s hilarious because it’s true. I’ll leave you with a one-minute clip of a favorite part of the movie:


2 thoughts on “Black Friday Anarchy and the Must-Buys

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  1. I work in retail, at a store open 364 days a year. This Thanksgiving I will wake at 3 a.m. to go in, preparing for a sale that officially breaks at 5 a.m. After my nine hour shift, I will celebrate a brief meal with family before retiring in order to wake at 2 a.m. for the Black Friday sale. The holidays are not what they once were. Thanksgiving is about shopping, Christmas is about getting stuff. Family has lost its importance.
    BTW…I was gifted a talking cabbage patch doll for my eighth birthday. I thought she was beautiful. It wasn’t until I was carrying her around by the arm and she said, “Oopsie! I’m upside down!” that I thought maybe there was something strange about her. LOL
    Great post!

    1. Elle, I’m so sorry your holidays are manipulated by exactly this type of thing. You’re right, though: family has lost its importance, and those who continue to chase bargains are only reinforcing that in the eyes of retailers. They’ll stop offering when people stop showing up.

      I am laughing about your doll…all I can picture now is Talking Tina from the Twilight Zone. 😮

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