The Other Holiday: Black Friday
It could have been like any other day with the frigid air and frozen grass hinting the signs of changing seasons. A trace of Christmas was edging its way in with every snowflake that gracefully entered the atmosphere. Today was Thanksgiving. But not only was it the holiday of all feasts, but it was also the eve of the most frenzied shopping day of the year. Family was trickling into the city, and considerable amounts of bountiful food were overflowing the extended tables.
When you walk into the party room, my family decks out the place with cheesy decorations, mistletoe, and unusual trinkets fit for a celebration. The younger boys in the family were clanking around the metal fold out chairs around the room. Every woman in the family was either frantically adding the last spice to their dish, or circling out the door buster they were determined to fight for in the holiday Christmas ads.
Catching up with family results in endless amounts of hugs, and conversations with grandparents and great uncles that you can’t get yourself out of, such as: “Did you know in 1902 so and so built that building across the street for such and such?” You just end up nodding and agreeing with everything they tell you until someone calls your name, and you run gratefully to their aid.
I honestly wondered where half of the food came from because I wasn’t exactly sure if it would fit into all the cars that were driven to my grandma’s house. Turkey, ham, casseroles, potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, endless pies, gravy, rolls, and other concoctions that don’t yet comprise a name.
After more helpings of food than your stomach could handle, you patiently waited for the fathers to be ready to head home. Of course they always chatted for a few hours more. We then slugged our tired bodies to the car, clamored ourselves in, and took another drive to our aunt’s house. To our mothers, the next day was as much of a holiday as the first. Tomorrow was Black Friday.
* * *
The night didn’t end with full stomachs and pumpkin pie breath. The hour drive to Provo provided us with the sleep we would need to keep us up for the next few hours. Mom and Aunt Mel chatted with Diet Coke’s in hand, the miracle serum that keeps their blood flowing without the need to stop shopping.
The unwritten rule that Christmas music wasn’t legal to play until Thanksgiving was strictly followed as Harry Connick Jr. serenaded us with “White Christmas,” and we would pull up to the driveway, taking our time to slump our way to the front door. This was usually our cue to wake up our brain. A ten pound stack of Christmas ads sat on the table with notepads and pencils. The kid’s only job tonight was to write out our Christmas list. Not unlike Ralphie from A Christmas Story, I traced the words “What I want for Christmas” on the top of my paper. As a child, it’s seemed to be the most important piece of literature you would turn in all year.
Boxes of holiday movies emerge from the depths of the basement to bring Christmas cheer for the next month. I change into my pajamas, turn into the living room where the movies are already playing, and find my niche for the night where I plan to wake up the next morning. Before the movie is over, Mom and Mel have already left.
Just for fun I click on the news. The main story on late night news is not about any tragedy, or even about celebrations honoring the holiday. Instead, the camera pans over restless mothers standing outside in the snow flurries, eager for the next twenty four hours they’re about to spend. They each dawn a poofy jacket, hat, gloves, and even blankets. The Christmas season had taken over their eyes.
Packets of used handwarmers lay on the ground. Christmas ads lay marked along the sidewalks with the number one gifts, and stores to hit, marked one, two, and three. At this moment people of all kinds were patting their pockets, feeling the burn where the hole would take place in the later afternoon. At this point in time, these mothers only had to remember one thing: line buddies were not your friends.
One desperate woman in the front of the line expecting to be interviewed gets her wish. “I skipped out on Thanksgiving dinner to be here! I’m first in line every year!” she says. The parking lot flashed lights where cars lined bumper to bumper, determined to get a spot in the parking lot. Disregarding the freezing temperature, the lucky ones would take their place in the back of the line, wishing on stars that not everyone in front of them was in line for what they came for.
I don’t see my mother or aunt standing in line. Somewhere in the Provo area, they were laughing in the cold, anticipating the store doors to open. Only a few hours longer. Of course, they never told us where their first stop was. They succeeded every year in making Christmas a surprise.
Finally the clock strives 5am and the race for holiday bargains is on. Shoppers flock stores seeking discounts while people fight against the newest season must haves. Shelves were cleared out, and store clerks cover themselves for near death experiences. A clerk helping a mother without her black Friday doorbuster was just as dangerous as sitting in a hungry lion’s den.
The retail world was alive. Screaming, crying, laughing people filled the department with their holiday woes and triumphs. Check out lines backed up around the stores. Retailers promised to give shoppers some of the best deals on their products, and they delivered. The term “shop till you drop” gave a whole new meaning on the busiest day of the year. The holiday jingles were hardly heard over store intercoms. The day was nothing short of complete chaos.
* * *
Around eleven in the morning I toss around the couch and decide to wake up. Christmas cartoons are playing on the television where I had neglected to turn it off before falling asleep. My sisters were already awake.
After a morning of hot chocolate and pancakes, my sisters, my cousin and I decided to call Mom and Mel to see how the troops were holding up. After a couple rings my mom answers while yelling over the receiver. “Hey sweetie! How are you?”
Before I had a chance to respond, I hear something that sounds like an African stampede coming from the other end. “Sorry honey, I’m going to have to call you later.” Click. From the sound of it, my mother was winning the battle. She was a true bargain hunter.
Around ten in the evening and six Christmas specials later, Mom and Mel opened the door to the house, concentrating hard on moving their feet one step more. Wide-eyed and smiling, they look at each other with a job well done, and the glance of complete satisfaction. They had conquered. I knew that if I were to glance into the driveway, I would see stacked parcels of Christmas goodies piled in the car, waiting to be placed under our future Christmas tree.
No questions asked, Mom and Mel were off to bed. Any adventures they had to tell would have to wait until morning.
After twenty-two years of my life, I have yet to have a Black Friday adventure. I live off the tales of the brave souls who dare to face it each year. For those of you who dare to try, I say good luck, and well done.