Did you celebrate Black Friday or Buy Nothing Day this year? Both holidays are informally scheduled on the Friday after Thanksgiving on the expanding seasonal calendar of named days.
According to Sarah Pruitt’s reporting on the History Channel website, two myths about Black Friday deserve to be busted. One is a twisted internet-driven rumor connecting the term to discount slave auctions. Squash that one.
The second myth has retailers operating “in the red” waiting for Christmas shoppers. It echoes efforts to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt to move up Thanksgiving in 1939 and 1940 to provide more shopping days until Christmas. Turned out it didn’t affect the amount of spending but it confused the country. Congress set Thanksgiving permanently as the fourth Thursday in 1941.
Pruitt pins the term Black Friday to the 1950s when it was used to describe chaotic traffic and crowds of pre-Army versus Navy football and after-Thanksgiving shoppers in Philadelphia, a term adopted by local media in 1961. It took three decades for the term to spread nationally. Retailers revived FDR and the red ink story because who wants to be invited to a join a mob of shoppers in headache-inducing traffic.
Probably not the Canadian artists who organized Buy Nothing Day in Vancouver, B.C., in the 1990s. Their international event, formally protesting consumerism, migrated to the Friday after American Thanksgiving in 1997. What better day to highlight overconsumption than a day when people line up before dawn to buy more stuff.
Then came Cyber Monday in 2005, an invention of the National Retail Federation to reach out to those who wanted to shop without crowds but with bargains. And on company time. Fifty percent of workers in one survey reported they planned to shop online from work, and 22% of employers report having fired at least one employee for unauthorized shopping trips while in the office.
In 2010, the American Express Co. launched Small Business Saturday at a time when retailers were struggling to recover from the 2008 recession. They trademarked the term and ran a marketing campaign reminding shoppers not to forget the brick-and-mortar stores in their own communities, preferably making purchases with their American Express card. Small businesses have embraced the day with doorbuster sales just like the big box stores, plus relationship-building events.
The Garland Business District is advertising 20 shops open for business, plus chocolate chip pancakes and hot buttered rum tasting. The Davenport Pharmacy in Lincoln County distributed flyers for Saturday arts and crafts projects for kids, wine-tasting with crackers and cheese for adults, and discounts. Auntie’s Bookstore in downtown Spokane is bringing in 15 local authors for book signings. In Spokane Valley, more than 100 small vendors will participate in a craft fair at the Mirabeau Park Hotel and Convention Center.
The small vendors who pop up at craft fairs are the ones most likely to fit the profile of needing strong Christmas sales to be “in the black.” And local dollars circulate more broadly in the community. The American Independent Business Alliance cites a hefty multiplier for purchases from independent local business, returning three times as much money to the local economy as the same purchase at a nationally owned chain. Locally owned franchises fall in between, depending on their franchise contracts, but are still small businesses even with an internationally recognized logo on the sign.
Two years after Cyber Monday, consumers were sold Giving Tuesday with heavy promotion by tech companies. There’s nothing inherently wrong with encouraging charity, but the week is feeling cluttered. The charitable message risks being lost in the noise.
Of all the new complements to Thanksgiving, the one most in the spirit of the day is Friendsgiving. It’s not about spending money or piously not spending money, it’s about investing in relationships. The term was first used in print in 2007, a combination of friends and Thanksgiving. It’s a handy term for a gathering of friends, often the day before or the day after a traditional Thursday gathering with family. It’s grassroots and spontaneous, arising out of millennial hashtag culture, but it expresses the essence of the oldest version of the American Thanksgiving story. Neighbors, a community gathering to celebrate making it through another year. Face to face, building real-time relationships. We could use more of that kind of celebration all year.
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