As a Brit, I never truly understood Thanksgiving. It seemed like a weird prequel to Christmas, in which you eat much of the same food we do on December 25, and is synonymous with lazy clip show episodes of TV series, where television families sit round a table and reminisce about out-of-context jokes from older episodes.
But it’s defended with such vehemence by my American friends to the point that I think I finally get it: a commercial-free day, with no gifts, in which families meet up and spend time together over some good home-cooked food and a sense of gratefulness for what they have. It’s a Norman Rockwell painting brought to life — and who can’t be charmed by that?
However, one day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday, and it’s an indefensible 24-hour period: not least because it directly follows one of the least cynical days of the year. If Thanksgiving is being grateful for what you’ve got, then Black Friday is the diametric opposite of that.
I’m sure that some readers will disagree, but here are the five reasons Black Friday fills me with an existential sense of dread.
It’s a totally made-up holiday
Okay, I get it: most of our so-called uncynical holidays were actually the work of Don Draper-esque white men in gray suits sitting around in smoky conference rooms dreaming up ways to sell us things. Santa Claus’ appearance was shaped by the Coca-Cola brand; Halloween is more about the bottom line of candy companies than anything supernatural; and … well, the less said about Valentine’s Day the better.
But at least there’s a degree of mutually-accepted pretense about those holidays. They are the holiday equivalent of convincing yourself that your one true love in the whole world happened to live in the same town as you, or your mom telling you she’s happy you’re a tech blogger. You know it’s not true, but it makes you feel better.
Black Friday tears down that veil, reduces it by 30 percent, and sells it on Amazon with a promo code. It’s proof positive that, just like The Simpsons once joked, celebratory events can be magicked out of nowhere, just because a bland marketing nerd looked at a spreadsheet and noticed that there was an earnings dip that could be translated into another big cash injection.
We accept it, of course, because we get cheaper products, but like a terrible internet search we’re ashamed of later, we never feel good about it after the fact.