Something Wicked This Way Comes

As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, I feel a sense of doom knowing that Black Friday (BF) looms like a coming storm and wonder who will get hurt or die this time. This time every year, just after dinner, the countdown to shopping madness begins in the US and we are inundated with news of who got trampled in the crazed rush to buy stuff. We shake our heads with pity and cluck our tongues in self-satisfactory hubris that we are somehow better than they are and then return to having our third or fourth helping of leftovers. Yes, I'm guilty of this as well.

It reminds me a bit of the television show Celebrity Deathmatch where, essentially, a few are pitted against each other for the entertainment purposes of the many. We wonder, "Who are these people?" Who indeed. Little do we realize, they are us.

Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come
"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!"

Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol
How exactly did the Black Friday tradition start? Perhaps we should back up a bit to how Thanksgiving came to signify the start of the holiday shopping frenzy.

As it's currently understood, it was during Roosevelt's term as President that Congress finally decided that Thanksgiving would be the fourth Thursday in November. It was not originally a fixed holiday and thus was up to the President to proclaim when it would occur. Since it was usually observed on the last Thursday of the month, the day that President Lincoln first observed it, it became an unofficial tradition. It just so happened that that year, it fell on the last day of the month due to there being five Thursdays the month of Roosevelt's first term in office. Business leaders feared that since there were fewer days available for consumers to shop, money would be lost and so attempted to convince FDR to change the day. Roosevelt ignored their concerns and held out in 1933, but when the same situation threatened to occur in 1939, he reconsidered and changed the date. The bill would become effective in 1942. Fred Lazarus Jr., founder of Macy's department store, is credited with convincing Roosevelt in this decision.

The changes were not initially well received by various factions who felt it was not in line with their interests, and so the holiday was celebrated on different days depending upon which state one lived in. The controversy continued for two years, prompting Congress to to pass a law on December 26, 1941 to unify the day.

The Origins of Black Friday

The earliest known usage of the term "Black Friday" goes back to September 24,1869 and is also known as the Fisk/Gould scandal - a financial panic going back to the days of President Ulysses S. Grant.

The use of the term as it relates to Thanksgiving is believed to be first seen here, in an advertisement which appeared in the January 1966 issue (Volume 79, No. 4, p. 239) of The American Philatelist.
(This advertisement is in the form of a column written by Martin L. Apfelbaum, Executive Vice President of Earl P.L. Apfelbaum, Inc., of Philadelphia.)

Philadelphia's "Black Friday"

January 1966 - "Black Friday" is the name which the Philadelphia Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment to them. "Black Friday" officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing.

This year proved to be no exception - especially at Apfelbaum's. The pace was hectic and the traffic was heavy. Here's a capsule report of how Apfelbaum's weathered "Black Friday."


All in all, "Black Friday" certainly lived-up to its reputation. In fact it lasted for two days, with more of the same traffic and congestion the Saturday which followed.

Is this activity unusual? A little. But just stop in on any day of the week and you will see more action at Apfelbaum's than at any stamp shop in the world.

The American Dialect Society
No one seems to know how the term became popularized in culture, but many retailers in the 1980s seemed to agree that it had a negative connotation although some conjectured that the description of 'black' was a reference to the amount of money made that day thus putting them "in the black".

In a separate Observer article, one economist had this to say about Black Friday's origins:
...University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith said. "It will probably be the worst (Black Friday) in 30-plus years."

Snaith, director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness at UCF, said the economy is in bad shape and is only getting worse. Unemployment is on the rise and Americans have lost trillions of dollars in the stock market and home equity. "Consumers are under siege and they're going to batten down the hatches," he said.

The day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, Snaith said, because it's the kickoff of the holiday season, a period where retailers go from being "in the red" - using red ink in their accounting records to indicate unprofitable times - to being "in the black" - turning a profit.
Yet the same article has this to say:
Research by the American Dialect Society suggests that the red-to-black ink usage didn't occur in print until 1981.
So it seems that the term 'black' was utilized for sensationalistic purposes.

These next comments relate to the original Apfelbaum advertisement. It's interesting what a couple of people had to say:
"I think it came from the media," said William Timmons of Strawbridge & Clothier.1
Joyce Mantyla, a spokeswoman for John Wanamaker, said:
"The media may have dubbed the term, kind of tongue-in-cheek, because it is the toughest time to shop," Mantyla said. "And we've been inundated so much with it that we have come to accept it."2
It's not surprising that the media may have been instrumental in spreading the idea of Black Friday for corporate brethren - to increase revenue while at the same time normalizing the idea that violence at all costs is acceptable. We continue to be ponerized by those in charge.

You may wonder, "Are these people really being controlled by outside forces?" Yes, we aren't in control of ourselves, in other words, when we aren't aware of the why's and how's of our actions and how they affect others, we are susceptible to becoming deadened to who we truly are, and thus are controlled by our own 'predator'. Our lack of awareness of this dynamic leaves us open to being influenced by the predatory/psychopathic nature of others as well as psychopaths. The trap is set.

Because of our inability to discern lies from truth, we are left ignorant, and, like children, believe what we are told. In order to be able to tell the truth from a lie, we must be ruthless not only with what we tell ourselves but also what is told to us. One question we might start with is whether or not what are we told by the media concerning Black Friday is true. Another is 'Cui bono?' or 'Who benefits?'

Myths and Urban Legends

According to this article, Black Friday may not be the biggest shopping day of the year. In past years, it didn't even make the top five. It was actually Christmas Eve that was at the top of the list. Unfortunately for us, that makes neither headlines nor the big bucks (at least not big enough for some). It makes sense that those who benefit from this holiday add-on would need to push the date back. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it...

We see that the creation of Black Friday and its transformation of already spiritually malnourished people into frenzied mobs with a bottomless craving for consumerism makes for a 'good news day'. In addition, regardless of any initial revulsion, merchants are happy with increased sales. Though they may have to suffer through the chaos, after all, what's a few hurt or dead individuals when the bottom line is at stake? And who's really suffering? Not the stockholders or CEOs - they're at home filling their bellies with confit and Beaujolais, having a good laugh at their already overworked employees as they get trampled on. Happy Holidays?

Yet while it's easy to blame 'them', what about our own actions? How is it that we've come to this - the choosing of material goods over life? To those who watch this annual tragedy, how has this become a normal part of our everyday existence? What, if anything, is the antidote?

Inconvenient Truths

Some have attempted to come up with an answer to this yearly madness. One idea is to shop local on Black Friday. The idea is for individual communities to support small businesses instead of big box stores. Some companies such as American Express naturally support this idea. It will be interesting to see how larger businesses react if enough consumers use their hard earned dollars to send a message.

Another idea is to simply stop shopping. For years now, this idea has been spread by Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping. He and his activist choir have used humor to engage in protest at various companies such as Disney in his documentary What Would Jesus Buy?. On a similar note, there's also Occupy Black Friday which, depending upon who you speak to, encourages one of the two solutions.

Perhaps, though, the answer lies in each of us. Perhaps it's time to really think about what matters and act on it. To those who consider this holiday season to mean anything relevant to thanks and giving, then the focus should lie there - with us expressing gratitude and seeking opportunities to give to others. How does consumerism play a role in this? It doesn't. What is it that we think we need so badly - what void are we trying to fill? And can ever more personal possessions fill it?

How Did We Get Here and How Do We Find Our Way Home?

Maybe those who look forward to 'getting theirs' are really just attempting to express unfulfilled needs that come with being disenfranchised by institutions which have placed themselves in the role of the narcissistic parent. And we, as the wounded child, are forever seeking acceptance by being whatever our parent needs us to be. We seek this 'love' through acquiring more 'stuff' because it's far easier to buy some shiny bauble than to do the hard work. We essentially want something for nothing - a 'free lunch'.

This sick society makes it known quite early that, unless we appear acceptable to others, we won't be loved. And one of the terms of this 'agreement' is that we mirror what we see around us and become gluttonous and show little to no respect for the needs of others. Fortunately we have a chance to change that if we choose. We can try to give the love we all desperately need to survive - both to ourselves and others by taking only what is necessary so that everyone can share in the bounty. In doing so, we receive far more than we could ever hope for, but to do this, we must stand together.

If we can try to fill those empty spaces with something that lasts longer than a flat screen, like compassion for ourselves and others, perhaps we can eventually get to a place where the stores will be empty on Black Friday and the media will have to go elsewhere. If that time ever comes, we'll have the last laugh though because, regardless of the shiny attractiveness of whatever new distraction they come up with, it will go unnoticed. We'll be too busy filling and being filled with good food and the laughter and love of friends and family. And we'll no longer need to anticipate Christmas or any holiday because, as Dickens brilliantly put it, we'll "honor Christmas in our hearts and try to keep it all the year."


  1. 'Shoppers Flood Stores for 'Black Friday',' The Philadelphia Inquirer, 28 November 1981, Pg. B04.
  2. Jennifer Lin's 'Why the Name 'Black Friday?' Uh ... Well ..." The Philadelphia Inquirer, 30 November 1985, Business, Pg. D08