Becoming the Bull: Black Friday

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It’s that time of the year when people start making holiday plans for Thanksgiving. It’s time to get ready for spending time with family, counting our blessings, eating good food (even though Thanksgiving food is my least favorite), and watching the Cowboys get their fans’ hopes up before easing into their year end slump.

Thanksgiving is also famous for the day that follows after it–Black Friday. Black Friday has become a quasi-holiday in our culture as people flock to stores in droves (90+ million shoppers are expected this year across America) to save money on merchandise they could not ordinarily afford. It’s this time of year when I see Facebook posts like this smattered all over my news feed:

“Isn’t it ironic that the day after we give thanks for what we have, we then go to stores and kill each other over crap?”

“Only in America can we give thanks for our families and friends one day, and then trample each other for Call of Duty the next. LOL!!!!1!1!”

“Not only will we ask you to work overnight on Thanksgiving, but we’ll also pay you minimum wage. Welcome to the workforce, drones!”

Before you read any further, understand that I am fully in support of spending time with family on Thanksgiving Day. In a world that rewards personal endeavors and scoffs at sacrifice, you should use holidays to laugh with and love your families so much more. Put whatever chores you can on the back burner. Holidays are precious moments that need to be used to greatly be a godly influence in the lives of our young people.

The pervading understanding of Black Friday shoppers is the carnage and mayhem portrayed in movies and television. The scene in the toy store in Jingle All the Way is another classic example of shoppers gone crazy (even though that was not on Black Friday). We always hear about store doors being pushed down, employees crushed, fights started, and customers being taken to hospitals with horrible injuries. Black Friday has been painted as a battleground where people fight with shopping carts, plastic cards, and camping equipment.

Is that really what Black Friday is about? What’s the history of Black Friday?

To find this out we have to start with when Thanksgiving started as a federal holiday. Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November to be when Thanksgiving was observed. The celebration stayed this way for 70 years when in 1939 Thanksgiving fell on the 30th. This was the second time in 6 years that this happened leaving retailers in a pinch. President Roosevelt was approached with changing the date of Thanksgiving so that:

1. retailers would not have to break the tradition of beginning Christmas advertising until after Thanksgiving.

2. retailers could have at least a 24 day shopping period.

FDR agreed that the change would help all involved and thus changed the official date on December 21, 1941 to the date that we know today. The decision was not entirely popular with some labeling Thanksgiving in 1942 as “Franksgiving”.

What makes Black Friday black? Where did this nickname come from?

The name began with police officers in Philadelphia dubbing the mass amounts of traffic jams and pedestrian traffic that is common around that time of year. Being from Chicago, I completely understand how ridiculous traffic can get around Christmas time. Thus, the day became bleak, or black, because it became a nightmare for police officers, bus drivers, and any others trying to navigate/manage the traffic. It could also refer to the number of people coming into Philadelphia for the customary Army v. Navy football game.

The background behind this name put Black Friday in a negative light in the minds of retailers, thus the meaning behind Black Friday came to refer to the time when retailers’ balance sheets move from red to black.

Another interpretation of Black Friday could refer to the recent tragedies associated with Black Friday shopping, the most famous of these being the Valley Stream, New York Walmart trampling. But is Black Friday really as violent as people say it is?

As of writing this post I was able to find that there have been 7 deaths associated with Black Friday and 90 injuries among a smattering of threats. The common understanding is that all these deaths and injuries are the sad product of a consumerism-driven culture. People killing themselves and each other for things they don’t need, won’t use, and spending themselves into debt solely so they can buy buy buy because having things is rad. As for the threats, who knows how valid they are in our ultra-sensitive liberal agenda worshipping culture.

Before we condemn this time as a menace to society, let’s look at some facts.

Is violence a common theme in Black Friday activities? In 2011 there were 86 million shoppers on Black Friday across the U.S., and 89 million in 2012. Let’s look at those two years and determine how likely you are to lose more than money this Black Friday.

Of the 86 million shoppers in 2011 there was one death recorded, and 46 injuries. That death was 61-year old Walter Vance, who died of a heart attack while shopping. News reports claimed that Vance collapsed in one of the aisles while shoppers continued to shop as normal, walking right over his body. Vance’s wife, Lynne, refuted those reports saying that 6 off-duty nurses who happened to be shopping that day administered CPR until paramedics arrived.

For the one awful woman pepper spraying shoppers in order to snag a video game, you can see that there were 6 willing to step up and restore faith in humanity.

In fact, I challenge that if someone looks long and hard at all the negative publicity surrounding Black Friday, you’ll find that it’s the news outlets that have blown the situations out of proportions. You can read more about these deaths and injuries at your leisure if you don’t trust my word for it. Give it a read. Most of these deaths and injuries happened a) at Walmart (go figure), and b) by people who came with weapons ready to go. Most of these deaths are related to Black Friday by the following the criteria:

1. These people were participating in Black Friday shopping, and then tried to go home.

2. These people died falling asleep at the wheel of their cars. That’s not Black Friday’s fault. That’s lack of sleep in not knowing your limits, and lack of sensibility in letting your passengers drive without wearing seat belts.

Don’t get me wrong, even one of these deaths or injuries is one far too many. Some of these injuries and tragedies really do showcase the horrible depravity of mankind, while others are tragically unfortunate. While acknowledging this fact, let’s also remember the fact that there are people out there who are doing decent things in the midst of the noise.

Amongst the blaring NFL highlights of the electronics section, and the endless drone of Idina Menzel’s voice coming from yet another Frozen toy, let’s remember that these things we’re buying are just that. Things. There will always be those people who, like Matt Walsh said, buy crap they don’t need, and crap they can’t afford. For every one of those crap-buying shoppers, there’s an equal amount of shoppers that are buying things that they genuinely want to buy for others.

Let’s stop this crusade of complaining against consumerism just because we enjoy the feeling of stepping into our bully pulpits and reminding shoppers how awful they are without telling them how needy they are. How will they hear what they need without a preacher preaching what needs to be preached? This Christmas season, let’s stop becoming the bully, and become the bull. If you go shopping, lead the charge and show people that consumerism isn’t the problem, but awful people being simply awful.

Go shopping this Black Friday, and do it responsibly. Be a decent human being, even if it means you can’t buy the exact things you’re looking for. Defend those who can’t fight back, respect the employees working their tails off for you to make ends meet for their families. Don’t be the animals that liberals tell you you are.

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