Sunday 29 November 2015

Why T.G.I. (Black) Friday has all gone wrong

My teenage daughter looked at me. “Triple the normal rate, Mom. Triple.”

I was puzzled. I knew that 19h00 on a Friday was peak time, but that did sound excessive. Reasoning that there were two of us sharing the ride, and we weren’t going far, I relented. “It’s fine. Call it.”

When the Uber arrived to fetch us for our family celebrations, we asked how busy he had been. He’d only started late, he said. But his friends had been busy all day. Huh? It is the time for year-end parties, but really, all day? What was going on in downtown Johannesburg today?

“The people are shopping,” he informed us. And it started dawning on me. My twitter feed cast further light on the situation. Bosses were outraged. People were asking for a day off. To take advantage of the sales. Because it’s Black Friday.

Black Friday is the Friday after Thanksgiving, the third Thursday in America, which had its origins in 1620. People gathered together in thanks for the harvest. Pilgrims met with native Americans to celebrate and give thanks together. This warm cosy feast was awarded public holiday status much later, when it became replete with Turkey and its many variants, pumpkin pie, family meals and watching football on TV. Some people even reach out to the less fortunate and help in many ways as part of their festivities.

Black Friday marks the start of the “silly season”. Retailers started discounting their wares in order to attract customers, and Black Friday (the day that many stores went from being “in the red” to “in the black” for the first time that year) was born.

It has evolved. Stores started opening earlier and earlier, and people started queuing. As we do. Even on Thanksgiving at 17h00. Kind of raining on the spirit of Thanksgiving’s parade, dontcha think? 

These days it is infamous for mall brawls, with strangers fighting over low-priced items. There were some bruises and war wounds proudly displayed, as people fought for the right to buy items at enormous discounts. Not exactly true Thanksgiving spirit.

But here? In South Africa? This isn’t harvest time. And the closest we get to Thanksgiving is wishing our American relatives on social media, seeing pictures of the beautiful tables, and the many things people are grateful for.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Thanksgiving is a fab tradition. And it probably should be celebrated in some form everywhere. Our Christmas tradition is akin to Thanksgiving. Everyone’s just too stuffed after lunch to even get the remote to turn the TV on afterwards, so we all end up lazing about, or in the pool – not being winter and all that. What I think is VERY VERY sad, is that we seem to adopted the Black Friday thing without the Thanksgiving Thursday thing. Kind of like putting on the weight without enjoying the meal, or having the hangover without the drunken escapades that could have preceded it. It’s all gone horribly wrong, somehow.

But what to do? I doubt that Black Friday is going away any time soon. I think we’ve imported it from our Western neighbours and it is here to stay. Those of us who don’t want to accumulate more stuff at any price will avoid it, but there will still be South Africans who will take leave or call in sick to shop. Sad but true.

So I think there is only one thing to do. Get your turkeys out people, we are gonna have us a good ole traditional Thanksgiving. We’re going to do pumpkin pie, and all the trimmings. And we’re going to say thank you for all we have, for each other and that we get to spend special time together. And hopefully I can persuade my family not to partake in the morning after that is the blackest of days, in my opinion.

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