It’s that day: the day we count receipts and packages, fingers and toes, scrapes and dents, and swear that we’ll never again go shopping on Black Friday. Unless we didn’t. Then we congratulate ourselves for our perspicacity, and check the dictionary to make sure that word means what we think it means. (More)

Happy Thanksgiving, Part III – The Day After (Non-Cynical Saturday)

This week Morning Feature has been thankful. Thursday we said thanks for the past year. Yesterday we said thanks for surviving another Thanksgiving. Today we say thanks for surviving another Day After Thanksgiving, the official start of the Christmas Shopping Season. By tomorrow , our jaws will ache from all those thankful smiles. In fact, we’ll be so @%#&! thankful….

A quick check with Merriam-Webster reveals that perspicacity means “acute mental vision or discernment.” So, thankfully – what else would we be this week? – we haven’t offered another hapless setup for Inigo Montoya’s second most famous line from The Princess Bride:

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Unless you went shopping yesterday, in which case you might have used Montoya’s first most famous line:

Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

Or maybe you said “Excuse me,” as if that might work on The Day After Thanksgiving. Or Black Friday, as it’s called.

The First Day After Thanksgiving

If you recall from Thursday, what we know as the first Thanksgiving was actually a tailgate party by early New England Patriots fans bored by William Brewster’s sermons. Things got a bit wild after William Bradford dumped that bucket of water on Brewster’s head. Some men took off their Pilgrim shirts and painted their chests. They then lined up, so their painted chests spelled out messages they considered funny. More than one Puritan wife was heard to whisper, “Don’t look at your father.” More than one Puritan husband was heard to whisper, “Stop looking at my wife.” The first Thanksgiving prompted what H.L. Mencken later called the basic premise of Puritanism:

The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

In the cold light of the next morning, many realized that apologies were owed. Thus, in a tradition as old as the first caveman bringing home a handful of nuts and berries in the hope of forgiveness, across the Plymouth Colony people set out to Ye Olde Shoppes. Ye shoppes weren’t actually olde, as the colony had been there only a year. Still, Ye Olde Shoppekeeperes recognized opportunity’s knock and hung signs announcing “Feafonal Falef.” The frantic pace that day was the source of the phrase “working my S off.” Thus they had to use Fs.

Because clothing was a popular gift, and because everyone wore black, the Day After Thanksgiving became known as Black Friday. That also helped to distinguish that sale day from the White Sale on Washington’s Birthday, a date they predicted with amazing perspicacity. This returns us to Inigo Montoya and his most famous line.

The Modern Black Friday

The term Black Friday for The Day After Thanksgiving fell out of common usage for many years, perhaps due to the financial crash of 1869. Merchants realized shoppers spent less money when thinking about financial crashes, and by then clothing came in other colors besides black. So merchants tried different terms. Fire Engine Red Friday failed, mostly because fire engines hadn’t yet been invented and no one knew whether they were getting the right color. Muddy Brown Friday solved that problem, but lacked pizazz. In one of marketing’s least creative moments, The Day After Thanksgiving came to be known as … The Day After Thanksgiving.

Fortunately, Philadelphia’s Phinest came to the rescue. A January 1966 ad in The American Philatelist – a word that does not mean what I think it means – noted that the Philadelphia police had revived the name Black Friday for The Day After Thanksgiving. Perhaps they’d made up the same Thanksgiving history offered here. Or perhaps they chose that phrase due to the “massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing.” According to the ad, the frenzy even included Apfelbaum’s, which was mobbed for two days with shoppers licking their lips at the prospect of unusual postage stamps. So the word almost means what I thought.

Now officially The Busiest Shopping Day Of The Year, Black Friday became infamous for injuries and even some fatalities associated with “stampede shopping.” As I have never shopped for a stampede, I can neither confirm or deny such reports.

Still, by the early 1980s merchants realized the image of Christmas shopping as akin to getting trampled by rampaging ruminants was less than inviting. So they offered a new explanation for the origin of the term. Because accountants typically recorded deficits in red ink and profits in black ink, and because the Christmas shopping season rescued many retailers’ annual balance sheets, merchants said the day was Black Friday because their balance sheets now showed black ink.

This verbal sleight-of-hand succeeded, despite the fact that by the early 1980s most retailers kept their ledgers on spreadsheets and computer monitors of the time had green letters. Thus the spreadsheets used (parentheses) to indicate deficits. I guess they thought No Longer In (Parentheses) Friday wouldn’t generate the same buzz.

So Black Friday it was, a day to head to Ye Olde Shoppes for the “Seasonal Sales” – but they still work their Ss off – amidst the hustle and bustle, clamor and confusion, eyes darting around lest someone reach for the last Thing You Absolutely Must Have on the shelf, ready to utter that famous line:

Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

Or you could try “Excuse me.” It might work.

Or you could stay home … perspicaciously.

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Good morning! ::hugggggs::