Boomers Made Black Friday

Now that we are are “officially” in the holiday gift-buying season, let’s examine the effect boomers have had on Black Friday. Before the first boomers were in their teen years, the term “Black Friday” referred to a day in 1869. Two speculators had tried to corner the gold market, which resulted in the collapse of the price of gold. In fact, all events referred to as “black” days of the week had traditionally indicated ominous events, usually with a financial connection. The great Stock Market Crash of 1929 is often referred to as “Black Tuesday.”

It is the Stock Market Crash and the Great Depression that lead us into the beginnings of the Black Friday story. In 1939, the Depression still had hold of the country and things remained pretty bleak for the majority of consumers and businesses. Since November contained five Thursdays that year, Thanksgiving would fall on the final day of the month. For businesses, that meant the holiday selling season would only be 24 days long. There had been an unwritten rule among retailers and consumers for many decades that holiday shopping should begin after Thanksgiving. For that reason, many large department stores across the country started to sponsor Thanksgiving Day parades as early as the 1920s as a way to usher in the holiday shopping season.

Boomers may or may not have recognized the alliance between commerce and Thanksgiving during their Wonder Years, but this clip surely shows it was there in 1960.

Business leaders had suggested the holiday be moved before, but with the Depression lingering in 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt agreed to move Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November, from the last Thursday position it had held since President Lincoln signed the first holiday proclamation in 1863. The thinking was that retailers would be helped out by adding an extra week to the holiday shopping season. It was not an idea that was well received. Only 22 states decided to adopt the new Thanksgiving Day. This prompted humorist Will Rogers to declare that there were two Thanksgivings: one for Democrats and one for Republicans, since Republicans were overwhelmingly against the idea. Congress finally got around to approving the date change in 1941, moving Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November, where we celebrate it today.

Despite the discrepancies in the Thanksgiving holiday celebration date, there still was no mention of Black Friday. That would wait until long after the War. So long after, actually, that the first wave of post-war boomer children had reached their teens and twenties. The first mention of the day after Thanksgiving being called Black Friday dates to 1966. That’s when police officers in Philadelphia referred to the day as being “black” because of the huge problems vehicular and pedestrian traffic caused them. Since many people were home for the holiday weekend, they would flock to see the city dressed in its holiday best. Retailers joined in the “black” foray to lament the onslaught of shoppers that would descend on them the day after Thanksgiving. Many boomers will find it hard to recall a day-after event named Black Friday. It had not really coalesced into a full-blown marketing event during our formative years, though some stores did grab the name for their sale advertisements.

While the parents of boomers helped create the circumstances surrounding Black Friday, it was the Boomer Generation that took it to its next level. By the 1980s, boomers were in charge as store owners, managers, marketers and as parents themselves. We had already become the greatest consumer generation the country had ever seen, and now we were poised to elevate our own paean to shopping. It was about this time that attempts were made in the press to change the ominous “Black Friday” to one that referred to “in the black,” which meant a time when retailers were “out of the red” and into the profit-making zone. It wasn’t necessarily true for many retailers, but sounded like a reasonable explanation for calling the day “black.” In the 1980s, the country was in a recession. As a result, deep discounts began to be advertised for the day after Thanksgiving as a way of luring shoppers to specific stores. Sales usually centered around clearance items, with the occasional “loss leader” (the limited quantity, highly discounted item) tossed in as bait. Therefore, it was the Boomer Generation that set the stage for Black Friday, though it took the children of boomers to take it to the level of insanity that now occurs.

Boomers recall a time in their youth when stores not only didn’t open at 4 a.m., they rarely opened before 9 a.m. It was even rarer for one to stay open past 9 p.m. In most areas, stores were not open on Sundays, even during the holiday season. As the sixties became the seventies, seven-day-a-week retail store hours were becoming accepted as the new norm. It would seem a somewhat logical progression that the next twenty years would see an extension of the hours to earlier and later. This season, however, another milestone has been reached; the first mention Mister Boomer can recall of retail stores staying open 24 hours a day, beginning on Thanksgiving Day. In our younger days, it was a source of pride for stores to post a sign stating they would be closed on the holiday, “So our employees may celebrate with their families.” Now, the new source of pride appears to be the “always open” sign.

What do you think about Black Friday, boomers? Is it a logical extension of our boomer-sixties mantra of, “If it feels good, do it,” or have we become the next generation of carpetbaggers, eager to wring out the last drop of profit from an all-too-willing public?

Boomer Turkey Days

The Thanksgiving holiday is this coming week. Recently, Mister Boomer ran across an advertisement from 1935 which read in part, “We may not all be able to afford a turkey this Thanksgiving, but we have much for which to be thankful.” That got Mister Boomer in a pensive mood. As boomers, we certainly have much to be thankful for. Parents of boomers lived through Thanksgivings in the 1930s, which was during the height of the Great Depression. Just when the country was pulling out of its worst economic maelstrom ever, World War II knocked on the door. World events didn’t exactly give our parents happy Thanksgivings through their formative years, certainly by today’s standards.

It’s Mister Boomer’s theory that their experiences had a direct impact on how the holiday would be celebrated with their boomer children. As boomers were being born after the War, these new young families set out to make a better life for their children than what they and their parents had — the mantra of every parent. The country’s economic engine was churning as the nation recovered, highways were being built, and suburban sprawl meant a home of one’s own was within reach. It is likely that that new home looked like a modern, idyllic paradise to young parents anxious to begin a new chapter of their lives. It was also something to be thankful for.

Mister Boomer’s Thanksgiving memories go back into the Eisenhower era. At that time, Thanksgiving and the Christmas season weren’t complete without the requisite trips Downtown, beginning with the annual Thanksgiving Day parade. In Mister B’s household, the children would be awakened at the crack of dawn. Sometimes there would be snow flurries, sometimes freezing rain, but always there would be cold. After a quick breakfast of cold cereal, the children were dressed in multiple layers to ward off the frigid November Midwest air and whisked into the family car. Mister B’s mom stayed at home tending to the meal, as was the custom of the era.

A short ride later, Mister Boomer’s father would pull the car into a Downtown parking garage and the family made the walk to the Boulevard to stake their space along the parade route. Mister Boomer would stand there shivering, and wondering why he couldn’t have stayed in bed a while longer and watched the parade on TV. Aside from the cold, there was the viewing challenge. Mister Boomer’s family didn’t always get the best viewing spot. The Boomer children were considerably smaller than the sea of adults surrounding them, so at times seeing any glimpse of the parade at all meant crawling through legs to try and get to the street barricade. Mister B would observe how some fathers put their children on their shoulders, while others brought along step ladders, but with three children in tow, Mister B’s dad was not able to be among them.

As the parade marched on, Mister B did occasionally enjoy a colorful float and some of the marching bands — when he could see and if the bands’ cacophony didn’t hurt his ears, that is. By the time the star of the parade — Santa Claus — drifted by to mark the close of the parade, toes and fingers were numb. The crowd always stepped through the barricades at that point and followed Santa’s float to the big department store. There, a temporary second-story entrance to Santaland was installed in the side of the building. Santa would move directly up a staircase from his float to a platform decorated in full Christmas regalia, where the Mayor was waiting to give him the key to the City. Conveniently, it was also the key to the hearts of good little boys and girls everywhere, as the crowd was informed. After a hearty “Ho, ho, ho” and wish for a “Merry Christmas,” Santa retired inside to his home for the next four weeks, and the crowd slowly dispersed.

To avoid the traffic, sometimes Mister Boomer’s dad would take the children into a coffee shop. There, they’d attempt to warm themselves and their fingers with a cup of hot chocolate. Invariably, there would be a large swirl of whipped cream on top of the hot beverage, and a candy cane with which to stir it. The Boomer family children always ate the whipped cream on top first, leaving little to stir into the cocoa. Not being a fan of peppermint or hot chocolate, this was not a ritual that Mister B enjoyed. To this day he dislikes hot chocolate, candy canes, and the cold November air.

Boomer families were divided on the best time to serve Thanksgiving dinner, as families appear to be today. For some, it depended entirely on when the bird was cooked. If that was 1 p.m., then so be it. Dinner was served. Others had a more precisely timed approach, choosing 3 p.m. or even their regular dinner times. In Mister B’s house, it was the former rather than the latter. Dinner was almost always served by 2 p.m. — whenever the big bird was finished. It had been cooking away since 6:30 a.m. in the roaster that was kept in the basement. Meanwhile, a tablecloth covered the table, which only happened on holidays. It didn’t matter that the china arrived courtesy of a weekly discount purchase for shopping at the supermarket. It was special dinnerware for special occasions only.

Most of the time, some aunts and uncles or family friends were invited to share the feast, prompting the “children’s table” to appear. Who knows when the first children’s table was set up, but boomers are well acquainted with the holiday tradition. It helped keep the children separate from the adults by design, it would seem. Was it to get a moment’s rest for adult conversation to ensue or to keep fidgety, picky eaters out of a major sight line for a while? Inevitably, the mother, an aunt or older female cousin would tend to the children at their table, seeing to it that each had the meal they wanted.

In Mister Boomer’s family the bird was the star, followed by the stuffing, sweet potatoes and that wonderful can-shaped cranberry sauce that the family ate only once a year. Vegetables were clearly down the list. It would be many years later before Mister Boomer would learn that vegetables didn’t have to come from a can. That’s a trait shared by many boomers… was it because our parents lived through the Great Depression where every can was precious, or rather that in that time, in Cold War America, canned goods were the American thing to have on hand? In any case, there was always plenty of food and enough for leftovers. The meal would be capped off with pumpkin pie, banana cream pie and a pineapple upside-down cake.

Somewhere along the timeline, perhaps germinating in our youth, the meal gained in importance over the holiday sentiment. Boomers have changed the holiday from one of thanks to the one of over-indulgence that is celebrated today. Is it merely that boomer parents, like their parents and grandparents before them, want more and a better life for their children? Or have we gotten too comfortable in the lifestyle our parents’ generation worked so diligently to create for us?

Mister Boomer wishes you and yours a happy, thankful Thanksgiving. Now where is that can opener?