consumerism shopping

Let’s not import Black Friday

Yesterday was Black Friday in America, but if don’t have to be American to have heard of it. It’s the day after Thanksgiving, a holiday for many people, and hence it has become the busiest shopping day of the year. The big stores all capitalise on this with big discounts, encouraging a buying frenzy.

We’ve all seen the results – the rushing crowds surging through the doors, the desperate snatching of bargains, the whooping shoppers with their overloaded trolleys. And then there are the fights, the tramplings, the shootings in the car park. It’s not a dignified occasion, and it’s made a lot worse by falling where it does. Thanksgiving is a family holiday “to be observed”, in the words of George Washington, “by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.” There couldn’t really be a more ironic tradition than to follow a day of national gratitude with an orgy of grasping consumerism.

In short, it’s a custom “more honoured in the breach than the observance”, as Hamlet says, which is why it is also Buy Nothing Day in the US. But that’s not stopping British retailers from desperately trying to get it started here too.

Yesterday Asda, which is owned by Walmart, went all-out on their Black Friday offers. They got the rush they expected, along with the fights over discounted televisions, a hospitalisation in Belfast and an arrest in Bristol. Several other retailers were in on it, including John Lewis. Amazon and others ran online deals.

British retailers may have dabbled in it before for all I know, but this is the first time I’ve seen it. So let’s stop it while we still can, shall we?

There’s nothing inevitable about it. There was a retail analyst on the radio yesterday saying how Halloween hasn’t been a part of British culture, but it’s been imported and so will Black Friday. Strangely, if importing American holidays is so inevitable, you’d have expected her to assume we’d start celebrating Thanksgiving soon, but she forgot to mention that one. It’s isn’t inevitable, and  nor is it even a tradition. (The phenomenon only a decade old in the US) It’s a retail gimmick.

There’s nothing wrong with sales and discounting, or Christmas shopping for that matter, but let’s leave the Black Friday name and its binge spending associations out of it. It’s not like we don’t have discounting aplenty, less than a month away, in what used to be called the January sales.

If we don’t want Black Friday, let’s say so. If you shop at Asda or John Lewis or one of the other retailers trying to kickstart this bandwagon in Britain, drop them a line and ask them not to bother again. We might still be able to head it off at the pass.

5 comments

  1. As an American, I have been concerned about the consequences of Black Friday for several years. Whereas people used to begin shopping in the early morning, stores have been opening increasingly early (8 pm for many stores around me this year). That cuts into Thanksgiving and the time spent with family resting and enjoying one another’s company, and it forces people to work during what would have been their holiday. I am not a fan of the obsession-especially when there are deals all through the winter months. It only feeds the focus of materialism during Christmas.

      1. Indeed. And yes, it’s a shame to see black friday eroding into the thursday. It looks like more and more stores are opening earlier, and it may come to dominate the afternoon of Thanksgiving.

  2. Don’t think the comment about Halloween is accurate, but the Black Friday thing really is an import, and not a good one. Importing it without the thanksgiving is even worse.

    1. Yes, Halloween is pretty ancient. What we’ve imported there is the American re-invention of what we had forgotten.

      On thanksgiving, I wondered whether I should make a case for importing that here and decided not to. It is essentially the same in spirit as our own Harvest festival, which is now generally a church phenomenon rather than a cultural thing. Thanksgiving is distinctively American, in that it was formally announced by George Washington and the president continues to call it every year. It’s very much theirs, and wouldn’t have the resonance here.

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