History Lesson: Black Friday

Black Friday is an American holiday created by R.H. Macy & Co. in the late 1800s to kick off the Christmas gift-buying season and punish retail employees for having the audacity to be poor. The holiday traditionally took place the Friday after Thanksgiving, but more recently the day has started the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and ended sometime the following week, because fuck you and your calendar.

For over a century, Black Friday was foretold by the appearance of Santa Claus at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and his proclamation of “Ho ho ho! Ho ho ho!”

A loose translation from Santa’s native Arctic Elvish is as follows:

What up, y’all. Happy Thanksgiving! I’m here to let you know that it’s totally cool to start preparing for Christmas tomorrow, Friday, after all the football and turkey and whatever else you’ve got going on today. Yes, Christmas is a big G. D. deal, but, for now though, go home, eat some pumpkin pie and some apple pie and hang out with your families. Don’t sweat the next thing. I mean, that’s a terrible way to live. It’s not really a way to live at all. Am I being too subtle here? What I’m saying is, if you so much as fucking think about Christmas today, I will know -– I will fucking know — and I will find you and I will gut you and then I will feed you to my reindeer.

Retailers lived in such fear of the Claus that they steadfastly refused to put out Christmas advertisements until after Thanksgiving ended in the Pacific time zone, as it was a well-known fact that the last parade stop for Santa Claus was San Diego and he had a habit of tying one on afterwards. It was also a well-known fact that he was a mean table-flippin’ drunk.

Christmas card from the North Pole, circa 1920
Christmas card from the North Pole, circa 1920

Up until the 1930s Thanksgiving was always celebrated on the last Thursday of November, without fail, because Abraham Lincoln said so. Sadly, Honest Abe didn’t factor the holiday profits of monolithic corporations into his declaration of a day of brotherhood and thanks, and the last Thursday of November sometimes fell so late in the month that there were only three weeks leading up to Christmas instead of four. These seven missing days meant that R. H. Macy & Co. and other giant department stores occasionally did not make all of the money. So outraged were these corporations, they actually petitioned President Franklin D. Roosevelt to have Thanksgiving moved up a week so they could siphon more money from gullible shoppers. FDR gladly complied, presumably because Eleanor wasn’t around to tell him shifting the date of a national holiday at the whims of rich people was a horrible idea.

As time went on and the influence of corporate money straight-up replaced democratic government, and the power of Santa Claus waned due to a lack of childhood wonder and ongoing labor disputes with the elf unions, the cabal of department stores and advertising executives behind Black Friday decided to go for broke and start stretching out their “holiday” for as long as they possibly could. No one has yet been able to stop them and it is rumored that Black Friday 2015 will begin the week before Halloween.

Anecdotally, the term “Black Friday” was coined because companies operated at a loss most of the year (or were “in the red”) and only turned a profit (“in the black”) during the holiday shopping season. This is complete and total horseshit, manufactured by corporate public relations departments to make consumers feel sorry for companies that are always making more money than is necessary or, in fact, healthy.

The term “Black Friday” was actually coined by police and merchant groups in Philadelphia in the 1960s because store owners hated their customers. Downtown traffic, both pedestrian and automotive, on the two days following Thanksgiving was so busy that roads were regularly snarled with cars and buses, and stores were regularly packed with customers. This pissed off Philadelphia to no end. The city called these days Black Friday and Black Saturday, recycling a name given to the financial crisis of the 1860s, because as a uniform group they dreaded the days that freaking much. To reiterate: business merchants disliked a reliable influx of customers and capital to such a degree that they had to come up with an insulting name for the yearly occurrence. This is perhaps the most Philadelphia thing to ever happen.

More Philly than this somehow.

The reason Black Friday has continued to flourish as a holiday –- one that is now actually recognized by several states –- is largely because of clever advertising, misdirection by the media, consumer idiocy and good ol’ American laziness. Each year, corporations and small business pretend to offer amazing deals on all manner of products on Black Friday, but this is all lies. The sales are rarely all that much better than at any other time, and are often nowhere near as good as sales closer to Christmas when businesses start to really get desperate. In fact, of all the bullshit holidays, Columbus Day historically has the best and deepest sales. The emphasis on Black Friday is simply a way for corporate fat cats to get gullible consumers to show up at the ass-crack of dawn and fight for their amusement. The more shoppers that die, the higher their year-end bonuses.

So go ahead and buy that toaster for ten percent off. It’s the American way, God damn it.