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Gobble Gobble: or How Grandma's Turkey got Stuffed with Consumerism

Written by Sam Baker

December 06, 2017


Although I believe this piece will be polemic, I have to admit: this is the most wonderful time of the year for me. Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday since Santa turned from fact to fable amongst my elementary school pals. Being from a huge family in the South, all we do is eat amazing food, drink subpar beer, watch football, and give our relatives the highlight reel of what we’ve been up to. For me, it’s a day off par excellence.


A few years ago, an emotion I never have on Thanksgiving — akin to the childhood fear of finding out Santa isn’t real — shot through my spine as my aunt (in her mid 60’s) told me she was heading to the mall at 6:00PM Thanksgiving Night to prep the store for midnight jewelry shoppers. It was worse this year, when my 23-year-old cousin who is a single mother dropped my godson off without getting out of the car at noon on Thanksgiving Day, because she manages a beauty store in the local mall and had to get back and prepare for the incoming shoppers. I thought it was a real shame that we’ve come that far, so far that some folks are missing the entirety of the holiday to accommodate  shoppers who have --time and time again-- proven to demonstrate some of the worst in human nature in search of “the deal” . (Admittedly, I was off Wednesday-Sunday).


To cope with my own guilt, I looked into the origins of this extra “holiday” in an attempt to learn why it has gotten worse, not better, in recent years. First, I stumbled across an article that is probably the most poignant in regards to the etymology of “Black Friday.” The phrase first appears in the publication Factory Management and Maintenance in the early 50s, equivocating factory workers’ absences on the day after Thanksgiving to The Bubonic Plague aka The Black Death: hence, “Black Friday.”




"Friday-after-Thanksgiving-itis" is a disease second only to the bubonic plague in its effects.  At least that's the feeling of those who have to get production out, when the "Black Friday" comes along.  The shop may be half empty, but every absentee was sick -- and can prove it.


What to do?  Many companies have tried the standard device of denying Thanksgiving Day pay to employees absent the day before and after the holiday.  Trouble is, you can't deny pay to those legitimately ill.  But what's legitimate?  Tough to decide these days of often miraculously easy doctors' certificates. . .


In the early 60s, this phrase is used again in a publication called Public Relations News, this time however to describe the huge amount of traffic and the need for extra police officers:


Santa has brought Philadelphia stores a present in the form of "one of the biggest shopping weekends in recent history." At the same time, it has again been proven that there is a direct relationship between sales and public relations.


For downtown merchants throughout the nation, the biggest shopping days normally are the two following Thanksgiving Day. Resulting traffic jams are an irksome problem to the police and, in Philadelphia, it became customary for officers to refer to the post-Thanksgiving days as Black Friday and Black Saturday. Hardly a stimulus for good business, the problem was discussed by the merchants with their Deputy City Representative, Abe S. Rosen, one of the country's most experienced municipal PR executives. He recommended adoption of a positive approach which would convert Black Friday and Black Saturday to Big Friday and Big Saturday.


Since the origin of the term “Black Friday,” whether for production or consumption, the enemy of corporate America on Black Friday has always been passive time spent with loved ones. Consumption on the day after Thanksgiving has undoubtedly become the lesser of the two evils. Masters in Branding professor Elizabeth Talerman teaches that a good piece of advertising should make contact with the emotional part of our brains first, and be processed later by our rational brains.


Emotional = Awestruck at how well my cousin shoots a basketball;

Rational = Christmas sale for sneakers.


It worked for me at Starbucks this morning as I heard a Bing Crosby song and thought about getting my girlfriend a Christmas gift. With politics the way they are, however, perhaps the word “deal” and Christmas music together aren’t going to trigger as many purchases this year.


Only Time and Santa will tell.


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