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How Did Black Friday Become a Thanksgiving Tradition, and What Can We Do About It This Year?

This year’s Black Friday shopping trip may look a lot different due to the COVID pandemic and society’s reaction. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy our time looking for gifts we plan to give to friends and family. We often partake in this “tradition” without really thinking about it. So how did this second half of Thanksgiving come to be a “thing?”

Over the years, I have met many families that make a tradition out of going Black Friday shopping late at night immediately after Thanksgiving.

Ahh yes, Aunt Kim is out the door before the leftovers have even gotten cold.

But this year the timely tradition of Black Friday shopping is going to look a lot different for many people. Let us take this unprecedented time in history to think about ways that we can refocus on celebrating the holiday without the need to sacrifice ourselves to commercialism.

Thanksgiving has been celebrated in the United States and Canada for quite some time. The feast has a Christian origin in the gathering between the Puritan Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans for the good harvest of 1621. Thanksgiving became a national holiday in the United States by President Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863.

So, we know a fairly good amount about Thanksgiving itself. But how did we come to embrace Black Friday shopping as part of Thanksgiving traditions? Black Friday once referred to a financial crisis during the Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. In the late 20th century, that changed as people started to do more Christmas shopping after they finished Thanksgiving feasting.

The term appears to have been used by Philadelphia police during the post-Thanksgiving shopping rush in the 1960s to describe the crowds of shoppers and traffic jams. Retailers then appropriated the nickname in order to lure shoppers to their stores, since many people have the day after Thanksgiving off from work.

The shopping spree trend took off in the age of the Internet. Many retailers now make most of their profits on this one day.

This year, things will likely look very different. Several retailers are opting not to have doorbusters and sales due to COVID-19. And many people will likely stay home and resort to alternate avenues such as Amazon Prime Day and Cyber Monday for their Christmas shopping.

In spite of many retailers foregoing the usual Black Friday sales events, we can still look for good bargains on Christmas gifts in other ways. Here are some you may consider:

1. We can continue to shop online. This will probably never go out of style. Many stores will be operating at 50% capacity, but it will be interesting to see how many people actually show up. It may be better to take advantage of these sales after Thanksgiving so that we can focus our time and efforts with our family. (Prime Day is on that following Monday).

2. We can focus our efforts on serving those in the community who are hurting or have lost their businesses due to the outbreak and shutdowns. Have you thought about what these businesses offer that you may need? Do you personally know of a small business owner affected by the shutdowns? We probably all know someone. We can take time to consider purchasing some Thanksgiving side dishes or baked goods from our favorite local eateries. When patronizing, consider tipping extra generously as well.

3. We can take a break this year from the emphasis on material items. Instead, we can take some time to think about how we can share the gospel of Jesus with our friends and neighbors. With this year being unconventional (to put it mildly), we should take the opportunity to refocus on spending time with our families and soak up the time that the Lord has given to us. Even though it all feels like a dystopian novel we must remember that God is still in control and that He already knows the outcome.

Perhaps some of us are disappointed that we can’t take part in our usual Black Friday shopping spree. But what we must remember is that the material things aren’t what ultimately matters. Rather, it’s spending time with our loved ones. We can live with a lack of material things, but we cannot live without genuine human interaction.

I pray this year, that we don’t take our families and blessings for granted but reorient ourselves to emphasize what really matters: the people around us.


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