Black Friday is my favorite day of the year and my favorite extreme sport, but when events and gatherings began disappearing from the calendar back in March, I thought surely Black Friday would be safe. Now here we are, more than eight months later. The mask Karens are still breathing down our necks, governors are trying to kill Thanksgiving, and Black Friday is canceled.
The fliers are still arriving in the mail and the festive doorbuster commercials are rolling, but Black Friday this year just isn’t the same. A Black Friday that takes place mostly online, the whole week of Thanksgiving or the entire month of November, and only when the sun is up is no Black Friday at all.
Now, people make a host of arguments about why Black Friday is bad — it’s horrible for employees, it fuels greed, or it promotes consumerism — and I’m sympathetic to them. For my family and for many others, however, Black Friday is truly a time-honored tradition.
Black Friday Is Rich with Family Traditions
I remember the years before I was allowed to go along Black Friday shopping. My cousin and I begged to go with my mom and aunt year after year, but the answer was always no. They left us with a babysitter instead, knowing we wouldn’t be pleasant company — and they were right. The hours of standing in line in the Wisconsin November cold mixed with the limited amount of sleep would make for some crabby kids. Black Friday in our family was largely Christmas shopping day, and that was back when gifts were from the toy department and were a huge secret, another reason the moms didn’t want us tagging along. The year we were finally old enough to go was the time of my life.
Some of my best family bonding experiences occurred in the wee hours of the morning on Black Friday, an extension of our Thanksgiving traditions. We consume way too much turkey for lunch, eat pie for supper, and then the boys go out to hunt for deer, and the girls go out to hunt for deals. Two years ago, we broke our record and shopped 20 hours straight, and last year we were just shy with only 19 hours. We take our shopping very seriously, yet 90 percent of the time is laughter.
More than the stuff we’ve accumulated on Black Friday over the years, we’ve racked up abundantly more memories. One year, my mom got hit in the side of the face with a flying doorbuster waffle iron (That was at Walmart, which we now avoid at all costs the day after Thanksgiving.). Another time, someone stole a mirror from us at a store that tragically no longer exists. My mom once found $150 in the J.C. Penney parking lot, and nobody claimed it.
I have one photo of my mother hunched over the steering wheel in a Target parking lot, holding a Rockstar energy drink and giggling, exhausted. “Is this what it feels like to be hungover?” my mom, who is a teetotaler, said, and laughter erupted from the rest of us in the car. Swipe over to the next photo, and you’ll see my cousin’s gnarly head wound after she smacked her forehead on a ladder at Menards while we were waiting in line.
A few years ago, we started playing the game “Heads-Up” on a smartphone to keep us awake in long lines, and the contagion of howling laughter usually spreads to the patrons standing nearest us. I also began video documenting the annual events with timestamps throughout the night, and now each year while we eat pie, clip coupons, and devise a game plan, we relive Black Fridays past to hype ourselves up.
Cyber Monday Is No Substitute
None of these experiences can be replicated by Cyber Monday or what many stores are doing this year: Black Friday deals all week or for the entire month of November. While many Americans scoff at the thought of trekking out into the wild, much more content to snag the deals with the click of a button from their couch, that just isn’t our style. Black Friday has never been as much about the deals as it has been about quality — and hilarious — time with family. If you aren’t making slap-happy Kwik Trip donut runs at 3:00 in the morning, where’s the fun?
As with so many other things this year, we’re going to try to make the best of it. We’ll go shopping on Friday, but it won’t be the same. The stores won’t be as crowded — because people already shopped Black Friday deals or because businesses will be operating at limited capacity — dressing rooms will still be shuttered, and we’ll all be muffled behind our masks.
If retailers use this as an opportunity to re-close their doors for the whole of Thanksgiving Day moving forward, that would be a positive development, returning the family day back to their employees, but let’s hope all other changes to the 2020 shopping experience are left behind next year. In 2021, bring Black Friday back.