Thanksgiving and Black Friday
Each year, on the fourth Thursday of November, the United States celebrates one of its most important and unique holidays. It is a day of over-eating, family reunions, football, and parades.
The following Friday has become a holiday in its own right: Black Friday marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and is a festival of consumerism and competition.
Harvest festivals and religious services of thanks to God were common in the early British and Spanish colonies from New England to Florida. What is popularly thought of as The First Thanksgiving was held in the Puritan Colony of Plymouth in 1621. After arriving on the Mayflower, half of the colonists died during the first winter and the others only survived after aid from the Wampanoag People and Tisquantum, better known as Squanto. He was the last of the Patuxet people: he had been captured and sold to Spanish monks who entended to “civilize” him. He spent time in England where he learned the language that allowed him to become an advisor and diplomat.
Festivities of this kind occurred locally and intermittently throughout the colonial and revolutionary periods. The official national Thanksgivings began in 1789 the same year that the Bill of Rights was introduced. They were held inconsistently until the American Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln declared it an official annual holiday. The mythologized story of Plymouth was not popularized until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many criticize the story and holiday because it erases the fundamentalist beliefs of the settlers and the four centuries of oppression of Native Americans. Others see it as a missed opportunity, a path of peaceful coexistence not taken, and an example for the future.
Many schools, governments, and businesses close on the Friday after Thanksgiving, creating a four day weekend roughly a month before Christmas.
Retailers see this as the perfect opportunity for big discounts and advertising campaigns. The custom began in the late 19th century with Santa Claus concluding many Thanksgiving parades and inaugurating the start of the Christmas season. Department stores such as Macy’s sponsor the most prominent parades which are adorned with the famous Parade Balloons.
The adjective “Black”
There is a long history behind the use of the adjective “black” to describe disastrous days. The first use of the word was by Philadelphia police that used it to describe the traffic and crowds. It took more than twenty years for it to spread across the country. Retailers did not make the connection to the crowds and congestion and started promoting the story that it was the day stores began to earn a profit for the year: traditionally on balance sheets loses were printed in red and profits black.
In the 21st century, the custom has started to lose steam. Stores broke with the decades-old convention and began to open earlier, eventually opening on Thanksgiving itself. The reality of deadly stampedes, workers forced in on a holiday, and online discounts have hurt its reputation. Sales on the day have been dropping for years. Despite its waning popularity at home the term and practice have been spreading around the world over the last decade with mixed results. Sometimes it is held on different days for different local holidays: the Chinese online retailer Alibaba’s Single’s Day is emerging as a major competitor of the Black Friday concept. The online shops have created their own holiday called Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday is a marketing term that alludes to the Monday after Thanksgiving and Black Friday and was created to encourage online shopping.
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