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Black Friday & the Meanness of Christmas

By Brian Panowich | Illustration by Kat McCall

So, Christmas — the crowned king of all holidays — is just a few months away. It’s the time of year that brings carolers out to your doorstep and families gather around the 50” 4K TV to watch George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life or Bing Crosby in White Christmas. At my house, Die Hard makes it into the mix, because, yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie, but you get my meaning, right? My point is, those are the kinds of things that a person envisions during the holidays.

However, maybe we can be real for a minute and talk about what Christmas is slowing evolving into. It just turned October as I write this, and the reason I’m thinking so far in advance about Christmas is because during a recent trip to Walmart for milk and a jar of pickles, not only was I bombarded with miles and miles of Halloween merchandise marked to move and “Happy Thanksgiving” decorations being shoveled onto the shelf, but Christmas trees and walls and walls of Christmas paraphernalia were just waiting to have their chance at bat.

Consumerism is eating George Bailey alive. And it gets worse every year. Because who wants to watch a movie like that if it isn’t remastered in ultra-vision and doesn’t take up the whole wall of your living room? Never mind the message. Christmas is becoming less and less a time for reflection and harmony and more and more about sell, sell, sell.

I remember that when I was younger, the days of the year leading up to Christmas intensified just a little more every morning by opening the next little cardboard door on my Advent calendar or helping my dad make his homemade eggnog. Those last 12 days of Christmas were the best, when the Rankin/Bass stop-animated specials began to come on TV. And, man, if you missed it, there was no watching it later. It would be another year before you got to watch The Year Without a Santa Claus. We never missed it in our house.

And then came the night of all nights, the almighty Christmas Eve, when me and my brother would be shuffled off to bed early so we could wake up to a smiling mom and dad in jammies, sipping coffee on the couch next the bounty Santa left under the tree.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I STILL feel that way when the cold of December hits, but now we have a few ridiculous cogs in the machine to deal with. I mean political debates about the color of a Starbucks cup or arguments about is it OK to say “merry Christmas” or “happy holidays” to a stranger. The tension out there gets ratcheted up to 11, and that’s right about the time Black Friday hits. It’s the one day of the year I’ve witnessed the absolute worst in people — the absolute worst.

I don’t know if anyone remembers this, but the term “Black Friday” was coined first in 1869 by bankers who attempted to corner the gold market that eventually resulted in financial panic and the collapse of the market. A little over 60 years later, in October 1929, “Black Friday” signaled the start of the Great Depression, an economic catastrophe that nearly leveled this country.

That’s pretty telling.

And seeing two people in Santa hats almost come to blows over a parking place or the last set of yellow towels at Target has me questioning whether finding ZuZu’s petals would be enough for George Bailey to want to come back to this mess.

Business is good for the corporations that benefit from it. They want to see us come out in droves to trample each other looking for the perfect gift or the perfect deal. But here’s a little holiday advice from an old romantic. The best deal in town — the perfect gift you can give anyone you love — is your time. Your time together will always be more important and more fondly remembered than a waffle maker from Macy’s. So, maybe this year we should all skip Black Friday and rejoin George Bailey in that “drafty old house” by spending time together and being good to one another.

Merry Christmas, y’all.