A hallmark of American economics is the ritualization of our consumerism. Spending sprees have been devised to accompany all kinds of events, activities, celebrations and milestones--and Black Friday has become the supersized red-letter date that overshadows them all.
In the mercantile vernacular, profits and losses are color-coded.
Like the morning sunrises whose crimson hues signaled warnings to sailors, bottom-line figures in red warn businesses of impending insolvency. Conversely, when a company's income statement produces a positive number at the bottom, it's said to be "in the black," signifying profitability.
The fourth Friday in November could just as easily have been dubbed Profit Friday, and perhaps should have been, since the retail spectacle that hordes of consumers on holiday enjoy is only made possible by employees who aren't getting the day off (but do get paid extra).
Although it will never catch on (the day's ebony cognomen is indelibly carved into the Christmas shopping psyche), today could rightly be called Irony Day.
Consider these perspectives.
One of the enduring musical tributes to yuletide materialism, "Silver Bells," features the following lyric:
City sidewalks, busy sidewalks,
dressed in holiday style,
In the air there's a feeling
Children laughing, people passing,
Meeting smile after smile ...
Officially, Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping season, pleasantly idealized in the 67-year-old lyrics above. But few front-line veterans would validate that as an accurate representation of their Black Friday experience. What is supposed to be the inaugural day of good-natured giving often devolves into a showcase of bad-tempered consumers.
It's ironic: There's an epidemic of Christmas spirit amnesia on the Christmas season kickoff day.
Jekyll and Hyde
With 130 million souls descending en masse in pursuit of sales specials featuring limited supply, the entire spectrum of human emotion can and will manifest itself.
The ingredients of Dr. Jekyll's legendary serum were never revealed in Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novella, but something in the mix of Black Friday's fever has produced a number of vicious Mr. Hydes.
Of all the days to have a "death count" website, it's depressing that the day after Thanksgiving would be the one. Blackfridaydeathcount.com has memorialized the 10 lost lives and more than 100 injured since 2006. Three people were killed last year in shopping bonanza disputes.
The idea of someone out shopping for the perfect gift being driven to utter selfishness--even to the point of lethal intent--is irony at its most grim.
The best things in life
If you finish the thought, it ends with "are free." Gathering as families to cherish the gratitude of abundant blessings is part of the tradition of Thanksgiving. It costs nothing to reflect on all that you have, and be thankful for it.
But there's nothing free about Black Friday. On the contrary, spending money is its raison d'être.
Indeed, recent studies have shown that shoppers looking for the best deal not only frequently overspend against their budgets, but one in four need three months to pay for their binge holiday shopping.
Friday's bargain-hunt sense of urgency increasingly interrupts Thursday's thoughtful respite; the "Thanks" part is barely contemplated before the "giving" demands to be funded.
It's ironic that our society can't even gratefully appreciate all we have for a single sacred day without succumbing to the burning yearning to go out and get more in spades on the next day.
Then and now
In the first Thanksgiving proclamation, George Washington mentioned God repeatedly--16 times in all. If you take out all the sentences containing a reference to God, all that's left is this:
"Given under my hand, at the City of New York, the third day of October, A.D. 1789."
Only one sentence referenced God in Barack Obama's last Thanksgiving proclamation, and here it is: "In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-third day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen."
Almighties at odds
In the first sentence of his first Thanksgiving proclamation, President Donald Trump restored "Almighty God" to prominence.
Throughout American history, that seminal phrase--which dates back millennia--has been overtly linked with the very notion of giving thanks as a nation.
"Almighty dollar" is of much more recent vintage, and gaining in a covert capacity, if not by literal terminology then by intrinsic influence, as the driving force behind Black Friday's ascendancy. Mostly the term is remembered as materializing as part of the 20th century economic ascendancy, but one of its earliest incantations can be traced to Washington Irving (he of Old Christmas authorship).
It's ironic that he called it "that great object of universal devotion throughout our land" way back in 1836.
Though not yet a fully accepted trend, Black Friday has been called the second in the "Six Days of Thanksgiving," to be followed by Small Business Saturday, Sunday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday.
Now that the "12 Days of Christmas" is considered archaic and remembered only as a carol, maybe that'll become the new holiday sequence.
It also might be a good time for an enterprising composer to put the concept to music.
Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.
Editorial on 11/24/2017
Print Headline: Ebony and irony