Did you survive Black Friday? Did you partake of this shopping extravaganza, waiting in frenzied lines in the wee hours to snap up unbelievable store deals?
Are you ready for Cyber Monday? Will you partake of this newbie shopping day born in 2005 as online competition to brick-and-mortar Black Friday sales?
Akkk. Enough with the questions. Let me savor my turkey sandwich in peace devoid of the siren call of shopping discounts. Let me stare at my dripping faucet — and laugh.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of why Americans masterminded Black Friday mania, I have a confession: I was blissfully unaware of Black Friday a year ago. Not to worry. A fish dripping out of a faucet comes to the rescue.
Try to picture this: I am in Venice, Italy, with an Irish friend who invites me to a children’s literature conference at which she will present an academic paper. Instead of taking her husband and children, as per usual, Lindsay invites me to tag along. Yea!
This northern bit of Italy is an architectural, art, history and culinary treasure. I get swept up in the senses of Venice, the sights, the sounds, the smells. And, yes, the walking.
Old Venice is void of bicycles and cars, as streets are too narrow, up-and-downish, winding and overloaded with stone steps. Residents and visitors alike must walk.
I am so into the Venetian minutia of this land of Da Vinci, Vivaldi, Casanova and Marco Polo that on Thursday I forget it is Thanksgiving. At the conference luncheon that day, the mental light bulb clicks on when I notice turkey, not normal Venetian fare, on the menu.
The Friday discovery
The next day Lindsay and I take a vaporetto, or water bus, to Murano, an island a mile north of the old city. As an addicted seed beader, I cannot be that close to one of Europe’s glass-making centers and not explore. I am a closet off-loom seed bead weaver, but that’s another story for another time.
Murano is famous for its glass sculptures, jewelry and those tiny little circles of glass called seed beads. Although competition from other European and Asian countries has lessened Italy’s world role in glass — a history that dates to the 8th Century — wondrous art glass is still created on this small island.
We tour the glass museum and browse shops. In one of the art studios I fall head-over-heels for a small sculpture best described as a dripping glass faucet with a glass fish magically encased in a glass drop of water. I laugh. This is my idea of feel-good art.
The “fish in a bubble” is a common theme in Venetian shops, but this studio does a different take with a checkered orange fish. Forget my meager budget. I have to buy it.
“We will not charge you for shipping to the United States,” the clerk explains as he processes my credit card, “because today is Black Friday.”
Black Friday? I’d forgotten about that, too. But Black Friday in Italy?
Back in the old city that evening, I notice a few Black Friday advertisement signs, especially on the street known for its Italian fashion designers. Amazingly, this American shopping addiction is getting a foothold across the big pond but let’s hope sensible Europeans avoid the 21st Century insanity chromosomes added to the venerable Black Friday gene.
An evolving history
Meanwhile, back in the United States, the Black Friday genes metamorphose each year with technology advances and economic seesaws.
The early history goes something like this: In 1952 American retailers, through osmosis or deliberate planning, decide to hype a Friday “After Thanksgiving Sale” to improve profits. Stores on the Mississippi Coast and across the nation open an hour earlier and close several hours later that day.
Fast-forward a decade and in 1961 the Pennsylvania merchants in Philadelphia have so honed this post-holiday sales technique that gene-infected shoppers arrive en masse, causing traffic jams, shopper tempers and shoplifting temptations.
For the Philly police, who can no longer enjoy post-holiday time off, the crowds become a nightmare. So they dub this day their “Black Friday.”
What’s in a name?
Throughout history the “Black” designation is used for trying times, such as the 1869 Gould-Fisk gold market fiasco and the 1929 stock market crash. Obviously, merchants don’t like the negative Black Friday designation for the shopping gene they carefully splice.
When attempts to change to “Big Day” fail, merchants hatch the explanation that Black Friday is a retail holiday, the day their ledgers move into profit, from red into black.
The Black Friday gene eventually infects the entire nation, but not until the 21st century does the insanity chromosomes of extreme hours and uber one-day discounts so drastically alter the shopping gene, now more than a half-century old. The onslaught of Black Friday gives rise to a competitive Small Business Saturday, a Cyber Monday and who knows what comes next.
I really don’t care. I’ll hunker away from the maddening crowds, stare at my Black Friday dripping faucet fish and laugh at the insanity of it all.
Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes this Mississippi Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or at Southern Possum Tales, P.O. Box 33, Barboursville VA 22923.