It’s probably my favourite thing about America. It’s a day devoted to food, family, and food; you get to play board games while the sugar from the pumpkin pie kicks in to negate the sleepy effects of the turkey; you get to kick back with a beer and watch the football (American that is) if you’re that way inclined (ie, an American and male), or the Macy’s Parade; and you get the pleasure of saying “have a good weekend” to co-workers on a Wednesday afternoon. Thanksgiving, or Turkey Day to some, has been an American tradition every November since the pilgrims (well, since Lincoln at any rate), and celebrates the simpler side of American culture – it is free from religious argument, it doesn’t have any annoying songs, and because you don’t have to give presents the crass commercialism of modern life is forgotten: for a day, we’re all pilgrims. It’s not forgotten for long; Christmas Shopping Season arrives with a bang, the very next morning, and what a bang.
They call it Black Friday, because that’s when the stores go from being in the red to the black. They should call it Red & Green Friday, because that’s when retailers take down their Fall oranges and browns and magically make Christmas decorations appear. Suffice to say, it is the Busiest Shopping Day of the Year ™. Normally, being stuck in crowds of tired and grumpy people in the dark early hours fighting over the half-priced electronic toy nobody needs but everyone wants is pretty much my idea of hell, on a par with being in Holloway on a Saturday afternoon when Arsenal are playing. All of these people, most of whom probably would not raise an eyebrow let alone a protest banner if the President ripped up the Constitution, congregating masse to the cathedrals of consumerism at 5am, having spent much of the evening before studying several rainforests’ worth of newspaper ads (never the news itself, though), armed with strategies and Christmas lists. Pete usually prays for rain and cold winds, and stays at home in bed; no discount is worth that effort. Well this year, as an experiment, I decided to take part in this cultural experience, and see if the reports of rioting at the checkout were true.
At four-thirty we rolled out of bed and into warm clothes; brushing hair was not an option. Best-Buy was advertising a laptop for $399, so that was our destination. Us, and everybody else in the western hemisphere. Hundreds of people were lined up right around the block, waiting patiently while pock-faced store workers geed up the crowd with patronizing and completely sincere comments like “are you excited yet?!” My excitement was low, my patience thin, my cynicism high as a Dutchman. Eventually the doors opened, and the fun began. I don’t remember a great deal, to be honest, except that the chaos was far more orderly than I had feared, and although we did not (of course) get the laptop, we did come away with a new $80 flat-screen PC monitor. Let the bargain shopping begin.
I didn’t last much longer. The sun came up, and I retreated to the comfort of the bed, but my wife and her mother soldiered on, getting most of their holiday shopping done in one fell swoop. I on the other hand got up after midday, and shuffled half-heartedly around the local mall. I’m such a shopping lightweight. I looked through some of the papers, with their handy advice on Black Friday shopping (“while one person is trying on clothes another can start waiting in line,” one sage journalist suggests). At least we had the rest of the weekend to recover, and we needed it. We put up our Christmas tree, and it has already added a warm festive glow to the apartment, though it pales in comparison to some of the ridiculously lit-up houses nearby, who have probably saved up all year to pay the electric bill (they’ve obviously never seen An Inconvenient Truth). I tell you what though, that’s not the last turkey I’ll be eating this year. Christmas in London, here we come.