Friday, January 16, 2015

Personal Essay: Why I Won't Do Black Friday Madness Anymore

The first time I shopped Black Friday was 11 years ago. We woke up at 5:30 a.m. and arrived at Wal-Mart just in time for the 6:00 a.m. opening. (How quaint!) The parking lot had fewer cars than on a normal shopping day, but quite a few started pulling in as the store opened.

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The seasoned Black Friday shopper knows what came next: Feeling the fierce adrenaline rush. Dividing and conquering with a map of the store and an ad in hand. Pushing past the slow people wrestling a cart. Grabbing the $6 jeans off the already-messy display.  Feeling the electricity of this mad swarm.

I love bargains. My first Black Friday was a bit of a rush: I felt initiated. Crazy shopping for 20 minutes, standing in line to buy for an hour, and then home and back to bed for a lazy morning. O what fun it is to shop!

Having done it once, over the next several years it slipped into a bit of a tradition. You know, flip through the newspaper ads while the turkey is cooking. Find the thing we couldn't live without. Plan out how to best hit a few stores.

Then they started releasing the ads early! At first I thought it was kind of fun to plan out everything a week ahead, but suddenly opening time moved back to 5:00 a.m. Not to be outdone, some stores countered with 4:00, then 3:00. It was like a war. Soon, most opened at midnight.

After having a nice big dinner and a relaxing day, I want to go to bed on Thanksgiving, not wake up in the middle of the night to shop. But Santa has a budget, doncha know. The crowds seem to get larger, but it's just not fun anymore. All the shoppers are cranky because they resent their night being hijacked. The only reason any of us are here is the lure of that thing we just couldn't live without, discounted for a few hours to half price.

Was it a year ago or two now that stores actually moved deals back onto Thanksgiving day? I saw the ads and felt sick and angry.

What was I giving up compared to what I actually got? All Thanksgiving week I was focusing on what I was going to get instead of being grateful for what I had. I had to cut precious family time short so I could sneak in a few hours' sleep before shopping. I resented feeling like a pawn in the War of the Retailers. Thanksgiving went from "giving thanks" to "gimme gimme."

Everything about the Black Friday phenomenon feels like the opposite of the true spirit of the holidays of the season. What are we doing to save a few bucks? One tally puts the deaths related to Black Friday at seven people, with 90 injured. The reasons for the incidents are all over the map: fighting shoppers. Trampling. Shootings and stabbings. Robbery. Exhausted drivers crashing cars. I haven't witnessed any of these personally, but I'm horrified all the same. It's just stuff. It's not worth it!

This year, it's personal--I have a Kmart employee in the family. Deals there start at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, with new ones every several hours. This employee goes to college every weekday and works Friday through Tuesday. He never has a day off to recharge. He can't come to our only extended family dinner of the year because he has to work all Thanksgiving day with an extra-long shift into the morning of Black Friday.

For close to 12 hours he'll be tidying the messy racks over and over, ringing up layaway for a non-stop line, and trying to find items for cranky and downright mean customers.

The greedier the retailers get, the less I want to have anything to do with Black Friday. This Thanksgiving I'm having dinner with (most of) my family. I'm going to focus on being grateful--frankly, I'm kind of burned out on shopping. I plan to enjoy as much pumpkin pie as I can, go to bed at a reasonable hour, and get a full night's sleep.

And I'm putting a plate with all the trimmings in the fridge for an exhausted Kmart employee to eat sometime Friday...before he has to go in to work again.

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