If you’re reading this, it means you survived Black Friday. You think I’m kidding. I’m not. Black Friday can be terrifying. You don’t mess with someone who has stood in line for hours in the middle of the night to get a copy of the new “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” for their Xbox. Quantities are limited and the price is right. Trust me, those people just don’t take prisoners.
Oh, sometimes there is that great Phish ticket line vibe, where people stand and chill and there’s a real peace, love, and tie-dye, “we are the world” mentality. But other times? We’re talking Saigon, 1975, and the fights for the last spots on the evacuation helicopters.
The term Black Friday may go back to the 1989 James Patterson novel, “Black Friday,” which is about terrorists blowing up buildings in and around Wall Street. Given how many books that guy sells – And without vampires! – I think the origins of everything go back to James Patterson.
Or, it might go all the way back to the 1977 movie, “Black Sunday,” about terrorists trying to blow up a Super Bowl crowd. After all, what do Black Friday sales and Super Bowl Sunday have in common? Crowds, tension, and guacamole. (See the Black Friday deals on Emeril’s Kicked Up Guacamole Party Dip Mix.)
According to Wikipedia – the source for all precise, edited, and meticulously vetted information – “The day’s name originated in Philadelphia, where it originally was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic which would occur on the day after Thanksgiving.” Thank you, Wikipedia.
In all likelihood, the term’s origins actually come from the idea that retailers have far and away their most profitable weeks of the year in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They are no longer “in the red.” Now they are “in the black.” My point? Black Friday should not be confused with Cyber Monday or Ruby Tuesday or Wednesday Addams.
The irony, of course, is that to get into the black, retailers are often deeply discounting everything from Hanes underwear (Sear’s) to Sunbeam donut makers (Best Buy). It’s not all about the billboard-sized plasma TVs and the latest gizmo from Apple. (Coming in 2012, the iBall, the iBrow, and the iSore.)
Regardless of how you look at it, however, it is the official start to the holiday shopping season. Unofficially, the holiday shopping season started in August. I was in a hotel gym in Chicago on October 10, and the facility was piping Christmas carols into the room. I’m not kidding. And there is nothing like pumping iron on Columbus Day to the Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick.” Someday, the holiday season will begin the moment retailers have finished marking down their returns the first week in January.
When my daughter was little, there were years when I would wander into stores to start shopping in December, and there would be a lot of empty shelves. Or, worse, shelves filled with the toys that nobody wanted. You know, “educational” toys. Things like board games about the Renaissance. Everything Barney. Card games to teach a kid about the Constitution. I remember that among the presents my daughter got for Christmas one year when she couldn’t have been older than five was a collection of Frida Kahlo postcards. I think her mom and I told her it was sort of like a coloring book.
In any case, Christmas is only 28 days from today and Hanukkah a mere 23. Black Friday is in the rearview mirror. So, it’s time to get cracking. Or not. This year, you could be wild and crazy and focus on what Christmas and Hanukkah really mean to you and your family. You could shop wisely and not extravagantly, and you could remember the needy. Would that be as satisfying as being the first on your block to slide “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” into your Xbox?
As a matter of fact, it might.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on November 27, 2011. Chris’s new novel, “The Night Strangers,” is a finalist this week in the Goodreads Choice Awards in the Horror Category.)