Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Black Friday: Has Our Time-Honored Tradition Gone Too Far?

Holidays are always a welcome break from my hectic life to get back to what is most important to me- family.

This past weekend I ventured back to my homeland of Louisville, Kentucky for our traditional Thanksgiving family dinner. I can’t help but feel nostalgic this time of the year, breaking back into my holiday routine- waking up to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, helping my mom prepare the stuffed bird and sweet potato casserole, eating an embarrassing amount of pumpkin pie, and spending the rest of the evening watching movies sprawled out on the couch. And then there’s my favorite Thanksgiving tradition- sifting through stacks and stacks of Black Friday advertisements. After carefully examining the contents of each advertisement, I categorize them into organized piles: the retailers I anticipate making purchases from pile, the maybe pile, and then the junk pile. (If you know me personally, this obsessive organization is not a surprise.)

My mom and I go Black Friday shopping every year. While most years we manage to score incredible deals, the most enjoyable part of the traditional event is the time we get to spend together. We’d be just as content browsing the slashed prices of retailers, commenting on items, and leaving empty handed. I understand the purpose of Black Friday shopping is to entice the customer to shop at a particular retailer in the hopes they will purchase a multitude of items to increase the retailer’s bottom line. But regardless, I love Black Friday shopping.

Traditionally, my mom and I wake up around 5:00 AM (which is impossible for me), and venture to stores to get a few early-bird specials. This year, I talked my mom into midnight shopping. Epic win. There was something very surreal about trying on leopard Steve Madden wedges at Macy’s at 2:45 in the morning; if malls were open 24/7, there’s a good chance I’d be there at the most ridiculous and fabulous of times.

So, throughout the over ten hours we spend browsing store racks in search of the perfect Christmas present, we managed to score some great deals. I got those Steve Madden leopard wedges and a beautiful BCBG maxi skirt for a fraction of the original price. I also purchased several gifts (that shall remain nameless for now) at a steal. Everything, for the most part, was seamless.

Backtrack to midnight. My mom and I are in the parking lot of our local mall in the hunt for a parking spot. I turned the corner into a short row of cars only to realize the spots were taken and there was no exit. I put my car in reverse, backed up, turned the wheels, and faced an exiting row. As I began to carefully turn down the aisle, a facing SUV floored on the gas, sped past me, and the passenger proceeded to jut out her middle finger, press it firmly against her car window, and flip off my mom and I. Absolutely unnecessary and you’ve got to be kidding me. Luckily, my mom and I both have the same weird sense of humor, and preceded to burst into laughter at the truly ridiculously rude scenario we just experienced. Exclaiming things like “Well, Merry f’ing Christmas to you, too!” and “They are SERIOUS about that twenty dollar toaster!” to each other, I laughed and shrugged the incident off. (Later, my mom stalked them in the parking lot, and gave the twenty-somethings an epic Mom lecture as they stood there in fear and denial for being called out. Mom win.)

Fast-forward to 1:00 AM. My mom and I are meandering Macy’s, discussing what to get my dad for Christmas. A few feet away, coming off the down escalator was a teenage girl and her mom. The teen steps off the escalator, takes a few steps, stops, sways back and forth, and collapses. Luckily her mom caught her mid-collapse and eased her to the ground so she wouldn’t crack her head. My mom immediately rushes to find a store clerk to call for help. As my mom is running around Macy’s looking for assistance, I see the other mom begin to shake her daughter awake and get her on her feet. The teen makes an embarrassed face and mutters she’s fine. This whole incident only lasted a minute, at best. But while this who scenario is taking place, shoppers are exiting the escalator stepping over and around this poor girl with little to no thought. Stepping off the escalator, stepping over her, without as much as a second glance. I even saw a shopper’s Macy’s bag clip the girl in the head. Again, you’ve got to be kidding me.

It’s now 3:15 AM and I’m at the MAC makeup counter. Examining a tube of lip gloss, I look up and see a sour-faced MAC employee. As the other employee was helping a customer, I asked, “Do you work here?” She shrugged her shoulders in a defeated way and said, “Yeah, I guess.” I gave her a puzzled look and asked if she could grab me the product. The employee then sighed and told me, “[The other employee] will have to get it. I just came in to help her. And somebody just stole my phone and wallet.” Really? Seriously? Was it absolutely necessary to rob the MAC girl, volunteering her time to help a friend, the day after Thanksgiving? For the last time, you’ve got to be kidding me.   

While there are bound to be incidents associated with a mass population frequenting one location in hoards, my experiences were miniscule compared to other events. Just YouTube “Black Friday 2011” and take a look at some of the footage that was captured at stores like Wal-Mart, Urban Outfitters, and Best Buy. Watch people push, shove, scream, yell, and literally fight over $2.00 towels or discounted television sets. Google the same and you’ll find the story of a woman who pepper sprayed over 20 customers, including children, to keep them away from the electronics she planned on purchasing at Wal-Mart. And there’s the father who was shot in front of his family at 2:00 AM in a Wal-Mart parking lot in an attempted mugging. Then, there’s Walter Vance, the 61-year-old pharmacist who collapsed in a West Virginia Target and was ignored by customers, and even walked over, as they shopped for bargains. Later, he died.

I’m not attempting to put a dark cloud on the Black Friday shopping tradition or make accusations against the retailers or shoppers in general. I am, however, pointing out the lack of compassion and care of select highlighted individuals. The phrase ‘holiday spirit’ invokes words like goodwill, love, and kindness, not words like pepper spray, stealing, and violence. Black Friday shopping is a tradition that is unlikely to falter with the American people. But has it gone too far?

As we go about our holiday traditions, whatever they may be, it is important to remember not only the purpose of this time of year, but also to participate in acts of kindness, compassion, and, for lack of an original thought, goodwill towards others. Gifts wrapped in pretty bows come and go, but the human connection and spirit is forever. 


  1. Lovely post, and I couldn't agree more; thats why I'll be doing my shopping at this weekend's Porter Flea in East Nashville. Happy Holidays and be safe!