Black Friday or Christmas Eve?

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

Not surprisingly, the news on Friday was filled with “Black Friday” reports.

All the local and national news channels reported on the hundreds of excited holiday shoppers who braved the aggressive crowds and bumper-to-bumper traffic to be the first in line when the various big stores unlocked their doors following their very brief closing for Thanksgiving.

Many of the shoppers who were interviewed had missed Thanksgiving completely, as they camped out at the entrances of their favorite stores.

In days gone by, Black Friday started at the regular opening of business on Friday morning. Then, the grand opening for Black Friday moved to exactly midnight.

Now, for reasons beyond my comprehension, in most places, Black Friday starts on Thursday, Thanksgiving evening. People haven’t even had time to digest their turkey and stuffing until they scurry off to wait for the turn-key opening of their favorite store.

Actually, I do understand why stores have started their Black Friday shopping rush on Thursday. It’s all about profit. It’s all about money. Mostly, it’s about their profits.

It has been reported that around 65 years ago, Black Friday was a term used by the merchants and the police departments of some major cities to describe the horrible traffic snarls and the nasty moods of many shoppers on the day after Thanksgiving. Fights, even riots, were reported as some shoppers would struggle to be the first to get their hands on the biggest bargains offered by the large department stores.

It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t pleasant.

Despite the aggressive shopping behaviors of some Black Friday shoppers and the bad moods that are generated by the traffic snarls, crowded lines, and people who “miss out” on the best deals of the day, there is another reason that the Friday after Thanksgiving is referred to as “Black Friday.”

A generally accepted accounting reference is that a business who operates in the “Red” is operating at a financial loss. When a business operates in the “Black”, it is an indication that they are making a profit.

It has been reported that many merchants operate in the red until Christmas shopping starts. Black Friday is the day that their financial books go from Red to Black. For the final month of the year, the money that comes through their cash registers goes to the positive side of their accounting journal and can be considered profit.

Some of that might be urban legend. Some people swear by it. Thus, Black Friday may be the day that profits start.

I can proudly state that I have never shopped on Black Friday. However, several years ago, a friend of mine, a legal professional, an intelligent, thoughtful person, told me that he always takes his daughter and her friends shopping before daybreak on Black Friday. They would get caught up in traffic jams and would, at times, wait on the exit ramp for an hour before getting to the outlet malls. That didn’t deter them. It became an annual event.

He could almost make it sound like fun … almost, but not quite.

Now, Black Friday is followed closely my Cyber Monday. The term Cyber Monday started about 12 years ago. It began because, at that time, only a few people had home computers. They couldn’t order Christmas gifts online, until they went to work on the Monday, following their long Thanksgiving weekend.

I’m sure their bosses would rather think that all their employees were busy doing work at their desks, but, truth-be-known, many people were online ordering gifts. Sorry, bosses. It’s true.

Years ago, when I was a single parent, I became one of the many oddball Christmas shoppers who waited until Christmas Eve to start my shopping. I would drop the boys off at their mother’s house and I’d head to the Dayton Mall area to do all my shopping. I would bravely (or stupidly) walk into a big store without a list of what to buy or who would receive the gift.

A short time later, I would walk out pushing one cart and pulling another. I’d take all my treasures home, sort through them and decide who would receive which gift.

It was chaos. It was challenging. In a strange way … it was fun.

After Debbie and I married, that tradition disappeared. Now, we use checklists. We are careful that we don’t overspend or underspend on anyone, but we still do our best to get each loved one the perfect gift. The thing Debbie and I never do is to shop on Black Friday. No way. It will never happen. We refuse.

Despite all the hype about the Christmas holiday, we try to stay focused on what is truly important.

It’s not about the buying. It’s about the giving.

Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist