I don’t know how this happened, but I grew up the daughter of small business owners and never heard the term “Black Friday” until 1994, when I took a job working at Windsor Shirt Company in Williamsburg, Virginia. Although my parents were in retail, they never used the expression “Black Friday”, and somehow I never heard of it on television ads, in newspaper or magazine articles, or anywhere else.
My job at Windsor Shirt was one of two jobs I ever had in retail. The other job was more like a retail/food service hybrid… it was at a chocolatier that served desserts, coffee drinks, and sold chocolate themed gifts. I liked the chocolatier job more than the shirt company job for a lot of reasons. For one thing, my boss at the chocolatier was a lot nicer to me than my boss at the men’s shirt outlet store. For another thing, I like chocolate more than I do men’s dress shirts. I held both jobs at the same time, and although the chocolatier paid minimum wage plus the odd tip, I much preferred it to hawking menswear… although I liked the clientele at Windsor Shirt Company more.
I remember my boss at Windsor Shirt that year was complaining that no one wanted to work on Black Friday, including me. She hadn’t explained what “Black Friday” was or why it was important to work that day. In the 90s, I was still very much into our family Thanksgiving gatherings in Natural Bridge, Virginia, clear across the state, and I wanted to spend the holiday with my folks. In my defense, it was my first retail job and I just didn’t have a clue, despite being raised by parents who ran a retail business. They simply closed for Thanksgiving weekend rather than fool with “Black Friday”.
My boss, who was a vegetarian, said I could go eat with her family. I was kind of offended by that, since Thanksgiving isn’t about the food for me. Seriously… although I like turkey fine, I can think of other meals that are a lot more exciting to me than a roasted bird is. I wanted to see my family, not hers. In those days, they still knew who I was and wanted to see me, too. Every year, the family has a big party and that serves as our family reunion as well as a holiday celebration. It’s important to most of us.
This particular boss was the type who spoke in a sing songy voice that thinly veiled her condescension and hostility. She used to beckon me with her fingers and speak to me as if I had limited intelligence. Strangely enough, most of the people who worked there said her husband was unfriendly, but I got along with him just fine. I remember thinking he was a perfectly nice guy, albeit a man of few words. I guess he’d have to be to deal with his wife every day.
In the end, my ex boss begrudgingly gave me Black Friday off, and I went to Natural Bridge, but rushed back to work on that Saturday. Ex boss was pretty nasty about that, too, warning everyone to park in the right area so that all of the parking spots were available for customers.
Man… I was so glad to quit that job, and she was glad to have me gone. My boss at Windsor Shirt and I didn’t mesh at all, for a lot of reasons. I’m also very glad I didn’t work Black Friday, since the following year, I was serving in the Peace Corps in Armenia, where I taught English, and I would not be home again for Thanksgiving until 1997. Little did I know that after I got married, I’d go “home” for Thanksgiving even less frequently.
My job at Windsor Shirt was handy, since I could buy clothes and shoes at a discount, and I needed both before I went to Armenia for two years. I stocked up on boots, sweaters, and turtlenecks, all of which really came in handy over there. That job did help me determine that I dislike working in retail, and I absolutely hate Black Fridays in stores, which brings me to the reason I’m writing today’s post about Black Friday…
This morning, someone shared this viral post on Facebook.
I had never heard of this version of the “Black Friday” story, and I took courses in African-American literature and Women’s literature in college, where we discussed these things in depth. First off, by 1904, slavery in the United States was abolished. Secondly, while the term does have roots in the 19th century, it had nothing to do with slavery.
According to History.com, the first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” came about due to financial disaster. Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk decided to try to make a lot of money in the stock market by buying up a lot of gold and trying to sell it for huge profits. On Friday, September 24, 1869, their conspiracy fell apart and the stock market crashed, causing financial ruin to a broad array of people from all walks of life.
“Black Friday” was used again in the 1950s, when police in Philadelphia coined the term “Black Friday” to describe the masses of people who descended upon the city to watch the Army vs. Navy football game. The huge swarms of people made it impossible for any Philly based cop to take the day off work and caused them to have to work extra long shifts due to the bedlam. Not only did the crowds cause injury and property damage, there was also an uptick in shoplifting as criminals took advantage of the confusion.
Because the term “Black Friday” cast a shadow on the city during the biggest shopping season of the year, Philadelphia business people tried to coin a new expression, “Big Friday”. But that didn’t take off so well, so after a few years of trying, they eventually started using “Black Friday” to denote the big shopping day the day after Thanksgiving. That’s when the Christmas/Hanukkah seasons really get into gear and people start looking for gifts to exchange. By the late 80s, “Black Friday” became an expression that meant retailers would see their bank accounts go from “in the red” to “into the black” due to all of the money being spent.
And now that I’ve read about that, I can see why I had never heard of “Black Friday” until 1994. I graduated high school in 1990, and that was early in the history of today’s meaning of “Black Friday”. I moved away from home to go to college, and my parents didn’t open their business on Friday after Thanksgiving, anyway. As the History.com article points out, “Black Friday” isn’t even the biggest shopping day before Christmas. It turns out the Saturday before Christmas is even bigger. That makes perfect sense, if you think about it. I’d imagine convenience stores also do well, as people scramble to get something after all of the other stores have closed for the holiday.
Anyway, while I think my friend– an African– means well by sharing this mythical tale, there is no basis in truth that the original “Black Friday” involved slaves being sold at a discount or otherwise the day after Thanksgiving. Slave sales the day after Thanksgiving probably did happen at some point in history, but the event wasn’t called “Black Friday”, and today’s “Black Friday” has nothing at all to do with slavery, unless you want to facetiously include being forced to work that day or be fired. My former boss hinted at the possibility of my termination if I didn’t work that day; she opted not to fire me, because she happened to be pregnant at the time and needed me to stick around until after the baby was born. Personally, I find “Black Friday” pretty tasteless regardless, but there’s no need to make it more so by spreading falsehoods. Snopes agrees with me, by the way.
Bill and I had a nice Thanksgiving. We had Cornish game hens, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and peas for me (since Bill can’t have them until he gets scoped), spinach for Bill, homemade rolls, and chocolate cake for dessert. I mentioned on Facebook that German ovens and hormone infused turkeys don’t mesh, due to the small size of the ovens most people have over here. Someone asked if hormone infused meats were “allowed” in Germany. As my German friend pointed out, they’re not. However, the commissaries on any American military base abroad carry American products, and that includes turkeys from the United States. We don’t just shop on the economy for food, although we certainly try to as much as possible.
If I was inclined to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas, I probably would not go to a German Metzgerei, because it’s not likely that their turkeys would be prepared the way I would expect them to be. For instance, the first time we tried to cook a German chicken, we mistakenly chose a “soup chicken”, which was intended to be boiled in a pot of soup. It was much too tough to eat. I would not want a similar disaster to occur with a turkey, given how much time and effort goes into cooking them, so I would probably opt for a Butterball, even though they’re not as clean as German birds are. Or we could just do a breast, but I like dark meat more than white, while Bill is a white meat man.
Since there are just two of us, and neither of us cares that much about turkey, we decided Cornish game hens were better. And we have plenty of leftovers, too. I only managed to finish about half of mine. Germans don’t seem to cook turkeys like we do, anyway. They prefer to eat goose this time of year. I wish Bill hadn’t made so much cranberry sauce. I don’t like it as much as he does, and he can’t eat any until after he gets scoped on Monday. The rolls were a hit, though, as were the potatoes!
We also had lots of wine and lots of Gordon Lightfoot. I bought all of his album in MP3 form from Amazon so I could stream it from my Bose speaker in the living room while I finished our latest jigsaw puzzle. It was 1000 pieces, and we were missing four until we found them under the couch.
Well… I’m not sure what we’ll do today. Bill took the day off, since he worked enough hours last week to pretty much make up for today. We may venture into Wiesbaden in search of coffee beans, or maybe we’ll check out the Christmas markets… but that would mean shopping on Black Friday, which is sort of catching on in Germany, too, even though Thanksgiving isn’t a “thing” in Germany.
Today’s featured photo is not of Black Friday– it’s of the hellacious security line Bill and I endured a few years ago when airport workers went on strike. We went to Hamburg for MLK day in 2015. I think in 2020, we may visit London again. We’ll see…