When I was younger, before the internet existed for most of us and when Christmas decorations were not up before Halloween, my mother and I would get up to be in line to shop when the mall opened on the day after Thanksgiving. That was a Black Friday tradition. We would roll out of bed at 5:00 am so I could eat some cereal and she could have her coffee. This was before there was a coffee shop on every corner. We’d don our obligatory Christmas sweaters and head for the mall.
Once we arrived, we would stand in line, getting to know our temporary neighbors. Most people were local although some had driven over an hour to be able to participate in the fun. Unless it was bitterly cold, which was anything below 40 in the south, we would all stand around exchanging small talk and listening intently to see if we overheard anyone talking about a deal we had somehow missed in the planning.
Some came to the Black Friday event focused on getting a specific item that was being sold at a seemingly huge discount and was in unbelievably short supply. Others were there clasping the “15 percent off your entire purchase” department store coupons they had clipped from the newspaper. There were no smart phones, no apps, no electronic coupons. If you wanted to save money on Black Friday you scoured the newspaper every day in the week leading up to the big event for coupons and lists of items that would be on sale. You planned your attack, narrowing down the single item you would go for first. If you were lucky enough to have family come along, each person could be assigned an item.
At 6:00 am the employee who I assume drew the short straw would come and unlock the doors. Everyone would stream through the entrance and head off on their mission, with plans to meet up in a specified location once the coveted item had been secured. The mall itself was bright and warm and filled with holiday decorations. The food court was a great place to get more coffee, cinnamon rolls, hot chocolate and more importantly, a break from the crowds. We watched everyone else who was still working hard to finish finding everything on their list.
Although there were always a few grumpy people (aren’t there always) almost everyone was in good spirits and was willing to point you in the direction of the item you were seeking. No one was screaming or fighting over who got in line first. No one was camped out for days before the event. People were not trampled and there was no violence. Everyone going knew it would be crowded and chaotic and that if you were just kind and took turns, everyone could get what they needed.
My mother and I would go every year, even if we did not have an item to shop for, just because it was fun to see everything and people watch. By 10:00 we would be done with most of our holiday shopping and would head home to heat up Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch when my dad and brother rolled out of bed. As big box stores starting opening along with the mall and later started opening on Friday at midnight we, along with many others, stopped going to the mall on Friday. There were not as many people to watch and not as many good sales. People started shopping online, stores started opening on Thursday and Black Friday turned into a whole series of “must do” shopping events. Now we have Black Friday (which starts on Thursday), Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.
I will be the first to admit that shopping online is a convenience I take full advantage of for the holidays, but part of me misses the time before the internet. It was a time once a year that for a few short hours, people spent together talking, laughing and just generally getting into the holiday spirit.