Saturday, November 26, 2005

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Yesterday was "Black Friday," which sounds much more sinister than it ought to sound. ("Black Tuesday" was the name given to the day of the 1929 Stock Market Crash.) "Black" refers to the fact that it is the day of the year that bookkeepers for retail businesses change the color of their ink from red to black, representing the move into profit-making for the year.

The Washington Post business section reported on Black Friday in a style normally reserved for -- well, reserved for the Post's Style section. The article, "Going for Broke -- and Bargains," focused on the human interest angle, through an hour-by-hour account of the day at several different retail facilities. For instance:

The first customer to get through the sliding doors of the Wal-Mart on Fair Lakes Parkway in Fairfax County had been sitting outside the store in frigid temperatures since Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Others spent the night camped in tents in the parking lot.

It took Wal-Mart store manager Lee Lowe nearly half an hour to usher hundreds of people waiting outside into the store for the 5 a.m. opening, under the watchful eye of police and amid some pushing and shoving. Those last in line had little chance of getting their hands on two of the big specials of the morning: a 42-inch plasma TV for $997 and an HP Pavilion laptop for $398. They were gone within minutes.

Anna Lam of Centreville packed her cart with 12 two-quart slow cookers, on sale for $3.98. She couldn't resist the price, she said, and would give some to friends and family.
Some news reports focused on the ill manners of many shoppers, citing stampedes and injuries that occurred when the doors opened to eager and impatient customers. The Hartford Courant, for example, noted:
In Grand Rapids, Mich., the race for bargains led to a woman getting stepped upon as dozens of shoppers rushed into a Wal-Mart store as early as 5 a.m. When the stampede ended, the woman and a 13-year-old girl had suffered minor injuries.
Despite the hype, Black Friday is not the busiest shopping day of the year. Last year that honor fell on December 18, the last Saturday before Christmas. Mastercard says that, according to its records, Black Friday is just the sixth busiest shopping day.

Perhaps the myth began in with the traditional arrival of Santa Claus at Macy's at the end of the Thanksgiving Day parade, or with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's decision to change the day of Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday, responding to the urgings of merchants who already recognized the day after Thanksgiving as the start of the Christmas shopping season, and who wanted to see that season's length extended. Thanksgiving has been the fourth Thursday of November ever since the Great Depression.

I have written before about the counterintuitive value of Christmas commercialism, both to our economy and to our culture. But it's nice to rise above the pecuniary for a moment to reflect on some of the aesthetic pleasures of the season.

I missed the tree-lighting ceremony on Charlottesville's downtown mall early last evening, but after enjoying the Moscow Boys Choir concert at the Paramount Theatre, I wandered down the mall and took a few photos of Christmasy scenes warmly enclosed inside shop windows.

Consider this to be "photoblogging Christmas."

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