Why I Love Black Friday (And Yes, I’m Out Shopping)

Black Friday gets kind of a bad reputation these days. Especially with some stores making employees work on Thanksgiving Thursday for “Pre-Black-Friday” sales, some shoppers behaving badly, valid concerns over placing materialism above family moments — yes, there’s a lot to critique. But following the Thanksgiving celebration, I personally have a pretty meaningful Black Friday experience each year … an experience that not only kicks off my holiday season, but also reminds me of some important Jewish values.

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Six years ago, I moved to the Mississippi Delta. I was unfamiliar with the area. I didn’t know anyone. I was fine with this, for the most part, because I was there to engage in meaningful work as an educator, which empowered me to push aside any discomfort and focus on my task at hand. But then the holidays hit. Growing up, the holiday season was always something special. I can recall the smells, sights, sounds, and emotions that accompanied each occasion — starting with Thanksgiving. But that year, I didn’t have the money to make it home. I was longing for a sense of home and family.

READ: Shopping: A Southern Jewish Tradition

Luckily, a friend of mine reached out to me. Vickie had moved to Nashville with her family a few years before my own Southern transplantation. She asked me if I needed a place to celebrate. I told her I did, and that was the beginning of a new Southern holiday tradition that I now hold near and dear to my heart.

For the past half-dozen years now, every November I drive to Nashville for Thanksgiving. Together, we all cook up a storm while having conversations ranging from how to fit their dog into the mailbox for the family photo to the history of Russia. Spending Thanksgiving with Vickie’s family has come to mean so much to me. After all of the Thanksgiving feast has been consumed, tables cleared, coffee served… there is a momentary calm. And then we bust out the newspapers and go scrounging for the best Black Friday deals. Their family kitchen table is a mess of “50% off”, “Buy One Get 3 Free”, and “Today ONLY” advertisements. The sound of shuffling, organizing, and cutting is the magical soundtrack to Black Friday Phase One: Rounding Up The Deals. Once we have spent a sufficiently long period of time figuring out what to get and where we move to Black Friday Phase Two: Strategizing.

We map out what deals to hit and when, who will be in line and at which place, where to head when the first brigade has completed their mission, what weather provisions need to be considered and packed away, and how to ensure that the youngest of our team only spends a few hours fighting the good fight so that they can make it back home in time to get some sleep and/or get ready for work in time to show up with only 10 dark circles under their eyes.

Finally, it’s time for Black Friday Phase Three: Hitting The Stores. We go by Krispy Kreme on the way in order to re-charge our bodies and pack in the high-octane-sugar-fuel that will get us through the mission. We also ensure our communication devices are fully charged and functional (can’t risk a repeat of the Catastrophe of ’11 at Target with the freezing rain, no shelter, and dead phone keeping us from calling in the cavalry; just thinking about it gives me the shivers). As we work our way from store to store, hour by hour, dusk to dawn, there is camaraderie. We go from excited to exhausted while sharing in laughter, hugs, high-fives, and enjoyment of each other’s company.

I know that this seems like insanity to those on the outside but in fact, it is one of my favorite nights-and-next-mornings of the year. It’s not really about the tremendous deals — it’s much more about the bonding that takes place. Through this entire event we are focused on having fun and listening to the wants and desires of others. Thanksgiving is about gathering, feasting, loving, and appreciating those that we care about. Black Friday is a way for us to bond and to do something nice for someone else (admittedly we throw a few items in the basket for ourselves too). I love spending this time with my extended family, and this has become a tradition for me that is here to stay.

What does my Thanksgiving-and-Black-Friday tradition have to do with Judaism? As I laugh and bond and get drawn back into this welcoming family, I am reminded of cherished Jewish ideals — two, in particular. First, hachnasat orchim, welcoming guests. Vickie’s family was surviving just fine without me, but they brought me in because I was a guest in need, and they made me a part of their family. This tradition is theirs, and they included me. That’s why I love it so much. Second, I see this experience as z’man simchateinu, a time for our joyfulness, plain and simple.

Black Friday shopping isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but it can be a fun way that I connect with family, appreciate Jewish values, and celebrate life. However you spend your Thanksgiving and the following days, have a wonderful celebration!

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