The first shopping day of the Christmas season is upon us, with the usual crowds, the frantic sales and the inevitable parking nightmare. Even the name—Black Friday—suggests that Americans are deeply ambivalent about this strange shopping holiday. But is it, perhaps, the most American day of the year? A spectacle of commerce and crowds, consumerism and credit cards, a day structured like a poll (vote with your pocketbook) on the state of the American economy? Is Black Friday the perfect and most fabulously self-reflective, narcissistic American holiday we’ve invented?
Every December, we regret the increasing commercialization of Christmas, as if we’re slipping further and further from some ideal understanding of the holiday (last seen in a Dickens story or film by Frank Capra?). But let’s be hardheaded and pragmatic about the facts. Christmas isn’t devolving from some Christian fantasy of love and regeneration. That ship has left the harbor. No, it’s evolving into the perfect, five-week spectacle of Americana, with all our best American gadgets and gizmos on display, with all of our basic habits of the heart—desire, acquisitiveness, competition—perfectly exercised. Black Friday is the first day of the American Saturnalia, a festival of capitalism and technology and American self-love all rolled into one.