Whenever I hear about the madness of Black Friday, the first thing I think of is the Furby frenzy of 1998, when those (basically) demonic, robotic, fur-covered talking monstrosities were flying off the shelves and spurring stampedes nationwide.

WHY. (Credit: Megan Trace via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0))

WHY. (Credit: Megan Trace via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0))

Ever since, it seems like each Black Friday has come with its own new tackle-everyone-ahead-of-me-at-Wal-Mart-worthy craze, whether its a flat-screen TV or a $20 DVD player or whatever it may be.

There’s even a website called blackfridaydeathcount.com! And that number recently reached double digits

How did we get here? A brief history of Black Friday

Before the furby phenomenon of ’98, it’s hard for me to recall such animalistic acts of consumerism committed on the Friday after Thanksgiving, though that could (very well) be because I was only 9 at the time.

As it turns out, the history of Black Friday as a holiday in its own right, devoted to deals and doorbusters, is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Retailers long ago figured out that the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas was prime shopping time for most people. In 1938, a TIME magazine reporter chronicled their amazement at a display of (fake) falling snow in a store’s window on New York’s Fifth avenue, the beginnings of more aggressive campaigns to aesthetically allure Christmas-minded customers even closer to Thanksgiving:

“All this not only added melody to Christmas shopping but made the Avenue’s 80,000 daily pedestrians acutely aware of an artistic rivalry which has begun to show signs of lustiness,” the reporter wrote in the December 1938 issue. 

Even so, the term “Black Friday” didn’t surface until the 1950s or later, and for a long time the busiest shopping day of the year was instead the Saturday before Christmas.

It seems the term possibly originated as a reference to the rampant absenteeism in the workplace the Friday after Thanksgiving (before it was a guaranteed day off), as seen in the November 1951 issue of “Factory Management and Maintenance” in an excerpt called “What to do about Friday after Thanksgiving”:

“Friday-after-Thanksgiving-itis” is a disease second only to the bubonic plague in its effects. At least that’s the feeling of those who have to get production out, when the “Black Friday” comes along. The shop may be half empty, but every absentee was sick — and can prove it.

Whether or not “Black Friday” was widely used to refer to worker absence is unclear. It seems the term gained the most traction in the 1960s, when Philadelphia police used it to refer to the crush of traffic that day, a result of shoppers and of the annual Army-Navy football game played during Thanksgiving weekend.

Still, it wasn’t until 1998 that TIME Magazine published its first article using that term to refer to the day-long shopping extravaganza. With the rise of the internet, advertising and deals became even more widespread, and by 2002, it eclipsed the Saturday before Christmas as the biggest shopping day of the year.

It’s an even more recent phenomenon that stores’ Black Fridays openings have encroached on Thanksgiving itself, and it’s only since 2006 that the aforementioned blackfridaydeathcount.com has been keeping tabs on the chaos. As it gets seemingly crazier every year, what can we as Christians do to not lose our heads during the busiest shopping day of the year?

Keeping the humanity in Black Friday

Full disclosure, I am personally planning on going Black Friday shopping with my mom this year, like we do most years. In my opinion, it beats watching football game after football game at home with the men in the family (zzzzzzz). It’s time together that we look forward to almost every year.

But how can we keep our sanity and humanity while braving the crowds? Here are a few ideas.

1. Don’t shop on Thanksgiving day

This one is probably the most important. Stores will continue to open earlier on Thanksgiving day if they see that there’s a demand. Let’s give people in retail a break and convince stores to let them spend time with their families by saving the shopping for Friday. Plus, you can use the extra time to eat pie, take a nap, fall asleep to a cheesy holiday movie, or school your relatives in a rousing game of “Bananagrams.”

Business Insider published a list of stores that will be closed on Thanksgiving.

Nordstrom in particular has a tradition of being closed on Thanksgiving Day that “goes back as far as anyone can remember,” Dan Evans, a spokesperson for the company, told CNA. They also have a tradition of waiting to put up Christmas decorations until the day after Thanksgiving. 

“Over the years we’ve heard from customers that they appreciate our tradition of celebrating one holiday at a time with our decorations and we’re honoring the tradition again this year,” Evans said.

If you’d rather skip the stores altogether, even on Black Friday, REI is again this year encouraging their customers to do something different with their #OptOutside campaign.

Join us. #OptOutside

A photo posted by REI (@rei) on

“The idea for #OptOutside was a shared idea,” Bethany Hawley, REI’s Communications and Public Affairs manager, told CNA.

“The leaders of the co-op talk a lot about what we can and should do in the best interests of our members and the outdoor community. It’s how we measure success and so the idea of giving our people an incentive to get out there struck us as an excellent way to say thank you and to highlight what we care about.”

2. People > stuff

If you decide to hit the stores on Friday, don’t trample people for stuff.

Ok, glad we got that one out of the way.

But in a little more seriousness, it’s easy to get tunnel vision if you’re making a beeline for those $20 flatscreens, so it’s important to make an effort to be conscious of the other human beings around you. Look them in the eye and smile, say please and thank you, put down the smartphone while you’re checking out. These are all simple ways we can treat each other with a little more human decency.

3. Shop locally

One of the best ways to combat consumerism and to keep human beings at the center of the buying process is to shop locally. This method of shopping most closely follows the Catholic social principal of subsidiarity, which holds that human affairs are best handled at the lowest possible level, closest to the affected persons.

You may even want to save some or all of your shopping for Small Business Saturday, the day after Black Friday, when many local businesses will be having their own special holiday deals.

There are also many ways to practice subsidiarity online, and it can be a great place to start.

4. Remember those in need

Is there a coat collection at your parish or a Christmas toy drop-off at your community center that you’ve been meaning to get to? You can also check the websites of your local homeless shelters and charities and see what they are most in need of, and use Black Friday as an opportunity to shop for those in need.

 

What are your thoughts on Black Friday? Will you be heading out or staying home?

 

This blog was originally published Nov. 19, 2015.