Black Friday- The Start of Christmas Shopping

Thanksgiving in America: A day of giving thanks. A day of spending time with family and friends. A day of feasting on turkey, stuffing and the like and watching football. A day to go shopping.

SHOPPING?!!  

Not quite. Thanksgiving is the the day before the start of the Christmas Shopping season, the day that is called Black Friday, because that is where many retailers provide the best deals for people to go shopping, so much that many of them would line up in front of the stores for hours until the doors open and people get what they are looking for.  But aside the fact that we finished celebrating our 150th Thanksgiving (President Abraham Lincoln declared the day a national holiday in lieu of the Gettysburg Address in 1863) plus the fact that the holiday is being shared with the Jewish holiday Haunakah this year, a first in at least two generations, this year’s Thanksgiving will go down in history as the holiday where people stood up to the retailers and said “No!” to shopping on that day.

While there had been a trend going in the last couple of years, where stores open in the evening of Thanksgiving, many of them, most notably Target and Wal-mart, plus some malls in America tried to open during the afternoon of this sacred holiday, at the dismay of many who just want to celebrate with friends and family. This trend goes away from the tradition I was used to, when growing up: where Black Friday started at 9:00am, in some cases (albeit a bit extreme), 6:00am.

Many people in other countries could not believe it. Some are of the assumption that it is typically American to consume around the clock. If that was the case, this whole world would be covered in plastic, and we would become the scapegoat. But deep down, the majority of Americans have stood up to the corporates, saying no to working or even shopping on Thanksgiving. Many of them look at us expats as examples and are envious. In Germany, despite having one Sunday open for shopping per month, all stores are closed on Sundays AND holidays, both religious as well as national. We close on the day of German Reunification (3 October), Pentecost weekend, Good Friday through Easter Monday, Epiphany and even on religious holidays in places like Bavaria, Saarland and Saxony Anhalt. This is just to name a good few. And there is a reason: we tend to use these days as the day of rest, going by the book in accordance to Genesis.  These are the days where streets like this one above are empty. It is unlikely that stores would be open on these days and the streets would be filled to the brim, because many of us want to spend time with family and friends, grilling food and feasting on what is typical for these holidays.

And that is why, despite attempts of the German government to provide exceptions to the rule, that we intend to keep our holidays and put the stores in check, forcing them to respect the wishes of the customers. This has resulted in Americans embracing the European culture in that aspect, for despite having 11 holidays where there is no work and the stores are closed (at least many), they really don’t have much time to spend except at the computer desk or on the road.  If we end up flocking into stores like the one below, only the corporates will be happy because of the profits, but not the Americans.

 

And this takes us back to Thanksgiving and Black Friday, with a bit request to the corporates. Despite your attempts to keep your business running and increase profits, you are actually losing your customers in the long run, because you do not listen to them. Perhaps you should take a look at the holidays and their true meaning. Look at what other countries are doing and how they have profited from them. Adapt to the needs of the customer. Sometimes just returning to the old tradition of having Black Friday beginning at 9:00am helps a great deal, instead of having stores open on Thanksgiving or any day.  Holidays are meant to be the Day of Rest. The Day of Celebration. The Day for Family and Friends. So before the next holiday comes along, why don’t you think about that and make the changes that satisfy everyone?

For those who want to know more about Thanksgiving, a link is provided here.

Black Friday: A Sign of Tradition, A Sign of the Times, or A Sign of Tyranny?

Photo taken in December 2010

As I write this column entry, people in the USA as well as American expatriates residing in Europe, Australia, Asia and elsewhere are celebrating Thanksgiving. The holiday, which occurs every fourth Thursday in November, is a special time for everyone, as it is a day for giving thanks to who we have and what we have got in our lives- family, a nice home, a decent job, and friends who keep in touch with us and are there when we need them; even in times when we lose a close family member. It is the time when we feast on a stuffed turkey, sweet potatoes, pies, rolls, and everything in between. It is a time to watch the Thanksgiving parade in many US cities as well as football games, play cards, talk about events of the past, and plan for the future…..
……especially as far as the holiday shopping season is concerned.
Thanksgiving also marks the start of the Christmas shopping season, which starts at 12:00am on this particular evening, or the morning known as Black Friday. Now who would be silly enough to do that, when in all reality people just want sit and relax and visit family and friends? Many retailers are doing just that, and many people are very angry at that notion, for that is more stress than everything. Kohls, Target, Macy’s, Wal-mart, you name it, they are doing it. But contrary to the belief that it would make the customers happy so that they can start early on the shopping- the old rule that the customer is king and should be accommodated to their needs- the underlying reason for this tactic is solely for profit.
2011 has been a very rough year for the retail industry as customers are tightening their belts and retailers are struggling to stay in the black. And this is only part of the problem that the US (and Europe) have been facing, as the economies are teetering on the edge of another recession due to high unemployment, exorbitant deficits that not even the toughest austerity measures to the government programs can cut it down to edible bites, and there is no real leadership to tackle this problem. The saddest part will be that 2012 will be the breaking point for all those affected by this problem. That means less economic growth resulting in our eventual dive into another recession and less consumption. Instead, we could see something resembling 1968 and 1848 when the public tones out the pleas to consume and holds the same governments and businesses hostage demanding a top-down reform of a system that has lost its breaks and going down a steep hill out of control and determined to slam into (…..).
The retailers are only a fraction of the problem society is facing but are still the ones that should look at the real picture regarding what the customers really want. It is not effective to have stores open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week so that the customers can go there at their own convenience. It produces meager profits and if one counts the employees’ salaries that are taken out of the profits, the end result is breaking even combined with disgruntled employees, who have to sacrifice their holidays just to earn minimum salary.
Black Friday is one of those fine examples where it was really not necessary to have stores open right at midnight, or even the evening of Thanksgiving. 25 years ago most stores opened their holiday shopping season at the absolute earliest, 7:00am; most of them at 9:00am. Sure there were huge lines, and many people did camp out on the parking lots as early as 5:00am just to be the first ones in the store. Now, people are either sacrificing their Thanksgiving or even pushing it back to Wednesdays, just so they can keep the tradition alive and satisfy the retailers’ needs, whose employees are more than furious at the notion of working on a holiday, where they want to spend time with family and the turkey. From an outsiders’ point of view, this is packing on more stress on the person than necessary, and after this season, retailers should reconsider their policies towards the holiday shopping season, so that the customers can have a healthy balance between work and life as well as food and gifts. Sometimes reverting to the good-old days where Thanksgiving is considered a national holiday where all stores are to be closed until 8:00am Friday morning and strict policies prohibiting squatting on the parking lots in front of retailers before 7:00am is the best remedy to reduce the stress on the employees and make the customers consider the true meaning of Thanksgiving, let alone Christmas.
If both holidays mean just consumption, gifts, and Santa Claus, then they are not considered holidays. We should look at the two holidays with different perspectives, and see what they really mean. The Pilgrims gave thanks for all the help they received by the Native Americans after enduring their first winter in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. They never had to worry about jewelry and fashion-named clothing, for they worried about how to survive on their own and recapturing their own identity, which was lost in the Old World (England). And Jesus Christ never liked being commercialized and glorified by the media- let alone compete with Santa. Christmas is his birthday and one should never forget why He came and how He was and still is influential in our lives. Perhaps one should take a minute to look at the true meaning of the two holidays and then think about when and how to shop for the right gift. Some will still keep to the tradition, but others will look at when it is the best time to do some Christmas shopping, but not at the expense of time for the family; esp. on a day like Thanksgiving.

Christmas Markets in Germany! The Holiday pics for 2010

Classic example of a typical German Christmas market

Well, it is that time of year again! Christmas is creeping upon us and we are in a mad rush to buy as many presents for as many relatives and friends as possible. We have Christmas letters to rush. In cases like yours truly, there are lists to make regarding what to pack for the trip home to family and friends and a trip itinerary to put together.  Each country has its own holiday tradition which takes place before and during Christmas. In the US, the holiday season starts with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, where half the population lines up in front of shopping malls and retailers at 6:00am in the morning and fight tooth and nail to get that perfect gift for their loved ones. Families decorate their houses and lawns with Christmas lights and other decorations, and in some cases, there are holiday decoration contests to see which house is the most decorated of the entire neighborhood. Where no contests exist, there are people who love to tour the neighborhoods and are in awe with the bright colors and the designs.

In Germany, we are just as festive but in a different way. Sure we have the Christmas tree, although we usually do not decorate it until the 24th of December. We do some Christmas caroling throughout the holidays, like in the USA- even on the 6th of January in Bavaria. We have the Christmas pyramids, where the candles are lit causing the top wings to spin. We have incense men and houses, where the scent of Christmas roams around the house. But what is very typical during this time of year in Germany are the Christmas markets that occupy the market squares of over 6000 cities for one month, from the end of November until Christmas Eve. No matter where you go, you see a lot of Christmas goodies that are served during this time, from “Bratapfel” (baked apple) to roasted nuts, domino steins to gingerbread cookies, Thuringian bratwurst to roasted chestnuts….. Each Christmas market has its own theme. Dresden’s Striezelmarkt is known as the oldest known Christmas market in Germany. The most common Christmas market is located in Nürnberg, which carries the name Christkindlsmarkt. But there are multiple numbers of Christmas markets in big cities, like Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg. And Christmas markets in border cities, like Flensburg, Saarbrücken, Aachen, and Basel bring in people from outside Germany to try all the specialties that are available.

How different are the Christmas markets from one another? The author of the Flensburg Files has introduced Holiday pics, where five Christmas markets have been chosen and the author will visit them and put a small impressionist summary together to provide the tourists with a chance to visit them the next time he/she decides to visit Germany, be it this year, the next or sometime in the near future. The top five pics of 2010 are mostly centrally located in Germany, however, other Christmas markets, like the ones mentioned above are high on the author’s places to visit list in the next couple years.  Two states have two Christmas markets located near each other, which are Thuringia and Bavaria. They consist of the ones in Jena and Erfurt (Thuringia) and Bayreuth and Nürnberg (Bavaria). The fifth one is located in one of the most multicultural cities in Europe and also the most populated metropolis  in Germany in terms of population density, Frankfurt (Main) in Hesse.  All but Bayreuth have a population of more than 100,000 inhabitants, but like the cities themselves, each Christmas market has its own identity that helps shape the cities to what they are. We all know about Nürnberg’s popularity but the question is to what extent is Nürnberg’s Christmas market so popular in comparison with the other four candidates? Bayreuth is famous of Richard Wagner but the market in this small town makes it a treat for those visiting or even studying there (Bayreuth has a university which has contributed greatly to the city’s development). While Jena remains the central hub for the optical and technology industry in the easter part of Germany, every day at 5:00 in the afternoon, the brass plays the holiday tunes that make the Christmas market the most memorable for the people there. And then we have Erfurt, which combines traditional and medieval Christmas markets into one which tells a story to those enjoying a Glühwein (mulled or spiced wine) and a good old fashion Thuringian bratwurst.

But there’s more to the Christmas market in Erfurt than meets the eye, as the city’s Christmas market is the first candidate on the holiday pics list to be given honors and a standing ovation from those who either have seen it many times, like the author has, or who want to see it very badly because their friends and relatives have seen it, as is the case with many people the author knows who are reading this column right now.

So without further ado, here we go with a tour of Erfurt’s Christmas market…..