With Thanksgiving only a few days away, the holiday season is fully upon us. Before we get too caught up in nostalgic images of Pilgrims and Native Americans feasting side by side, sleigh rides through the snow, and Santa somehow squeezing his rotund behind down the chimney, let’s talk about what the holiday season is really about: shopping.
Black Friday is, increasingly, as much a part of the season as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s. It has joined their ranks as a legitimate holiday.
Black Friday first got its name in 1960s Philadelphia, when frazzled police officers started using the term to describe the massive traffic jams and overcrowded conditions that accompanied the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the city center.
Although retailers have always hated the term for its negative connotation, as it caught on, they spun the narrative to emphasize that they go “into the black” in their ledger books while recording massive holiday profits.
Whatever the reason for its name, Black Friday gets a lot of flak because it is the actual manifestation of the blatant and sometimes violent consumerism that is currently synonymous with the holiday season. And people are growing to hate the controversial holiday even more as it is slowly but surely encroaching on Thursday’s traditional festivities.
Over the past couple decades; retailers have been opening their doors for after-Thanksgiving sales at earlier and earlier hours. Early-bird specials once began at 6 a.m., but no one bats an eyelash at sales starting at 4 a.m. Many malls and retailers open at midnight, but in 2011, stores like Target and Walmart opened their doors on Thanksgiving night mere hours after the conclusion of the feasting, rather than waiting for midnight.
The effect has been dubbed the “Black Friday creep,” and it has prompted employees at chain retailers like K-Mart, Target and Walmart to start online petitions, saying their employers have taken it too far and calling for a return to even midnight openings. A petition by a Target employee in California has garnered over 300,000 signatures.
Not only does prioritizing shopping over time with family look bad symbolically (cue your grandma asking, “Is nothing sacred anymore!?”), but some employees of these stores miss the holiday completely, as they have to prepare for the crowds of shoppers long before doors open.
For anyone who’s been a part of the Black Friday madness or even seen footage of it on the news, it’s obvious that not only are hoards of shoppers rude and pushy, but they can also be deadly.
In 2008, a man working at a Walmart in Long Island, N.Y., was trampled to death after an out of-control crowd of shoppers broke down the doors and stampeded into the store.
Last year, 20 people were treated for injuries after a woman, who later turned herself in to police, pepper sprayed shoppers at a Los Angeles Walmart. She was after an Xbox 360.
These violent scenes are not isolated incidents: chaotic scenes such as these are becoming the iconic images of the holiday season. Even when they aren’t violent, images of people waiting in lines on Thanksgiving night to get sale items and then eagerly rushing the doors of Best Buy the moment they open strike me as silly or even embarrassing.
The Boston Globe recently published an article called “Malls start Black Friday earlier,” and it explained how the staffs at malls owned by the Simon Property Group (including the South Shore Plaza in Braintree and the Natick Mall) plan to welcome their Black Friday guests. Police details will be arranged at the South Shore Plaza and the first 250 shoppers will receive a “survival kit” including things like hand sanitizer, water and a snack to make sure they don’t drop as they shop. Staff will apparently also be handing out snacks during the shopping frenzy to keep energy up, as if Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t filling enough.
So apparently a “normal” opening time of 12:30 a.m. doesn’t preclude utter insanity.
However, a small ray of light still exists for those of us disillusioned with the holiday shopping mania. According to the CNNMoney article “Wal-Mart workers plan Black Friday walkout,” employee protests at a 1,000 Walmarts nationwide, including one walk out, are expected this year.
It’s unclear how much of an impact these protests will have on sales, and maybe more importantly consumer attitudes towards Black Friday shopping. The good or bad news is that we only have to wait a couple days to see what kind of madness hits the fan this year.
Hannah Sparks is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.