As I write these words, Thanksgiving 2018 is not yet history. But as you read them, it will be. And that begs the question: Have you finished your Christmas/PC-correct Holiday shopping yet? You’re only looking at a month to go. Given the fact that several retailers have had decorations up for weeks and the toy commercials (for little AND big kids) commenced before Election Day, if you’re not checking off names on your list, consider yourself a slacker.

Within recent memory for most, Thanksgiving was a totally separate holiday from Christmas. Shoot, Halloween was a festive occasion unto itself. Now? Not so much. From late October right through the end of the year, the pace of life seems to be one big “Buy Me, Buy Me” blur.

As a kid, the Thanksgiving holiday was a really big deal for me. School started two days after Labor Day, and there was no such thing as a Fall Break. For Teachers’ Meetings once a month we got to go home a half-hour early. Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day were school holidays but only if they fell on weekdays. So, the four-day weekend of Thanksgiving seemed like a beautiful oasis of no homework. And we really didn’t do much schoolwork on Wednesday of that week either. It was reserved for dressing up like Pilgrims and Indians and eating fish sticks and corn in the lunchroom as part of our holiday repast in honor of those groups.

What we now know as Black Friday was definitely a shopping day, but I don’t remember my mom ever getting up at 4:00 AM to head down to Rike’s (our local department store) for not-to-miss bargains. (Historical footnote: It seems the term Black Friday didn’t originally have anything to do with the best deals on electronics, clothes, or even Ping-Pong tables. No, back on September 24, 1869, which happened to be a Friday, a couple of financial scalawags named James Fish and Jay Gould tried their best to take over the gold market in the New York Gold Exchange. I don’t have any idea why the attempted coup wasn’t called Gold Friday, but that’s the story.)

After extensive research, I came across information that sometime in the late 1950s and early 60s, BIG Friday was the original moniker given to the shopping frenzy the day after Thanksgiving. Some thought the switch to BLACK had to do with merchants finally getting their sales onto the positive side of the ledger on that day, but that’s really folklore. If you’re counting on one day out of 365 to carry the load for your business, you might want to think of an alternative means of producing income. (Unless you own the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Those folks do pretty well on Memorial Day each year.)

My memories of Christmas shopping are highlighted by an annual post-Thanksgiving trip to the aforementioned Rike’s in downtown Dayton, Ohio’s business district. My sisters and I would dress up (everybody who went downtown did) and pile into the station wagon with Mom and Dad. The store would go to great lengths to decorate its street-facing windows with Winter Wonderland scenes. (Think Buddy the Elf but in a tasteful way.)

Santa arrived right after Thanksgiving, and we had to stand in a very long line to talk with him. As the oldest, I had the dubious honor of keeping the Santa secret for a long, long time so as not to spoil the magic for my younger siblings. I do recall being about 14 and dutifully having my picture taken with Santa while my youngest sister sat on his lap. (What a good brother I was – which is something, for some unknown reason, I seem to have to keep telling my sisters even to this day.)

After visiting the jolly old elf, we were led into a place called Tike’s, a clever marketing vehicle of Rike’s. Mom and Dad gave us a bit of money so we could pick out some treasures to give them on Christmas Day. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine there was some kind of communication between the store helpers in Tike’s and parents so that budgets weren’t busted and Dad didn’t end up with the same wallet six years in a row.

It really was a great system. We kids walked away secure in the knowledge Santa knew our wants, wishes, and desires, and we had presents for Mom and Dad. So we could concentrate the remaining days on building up the excitement for Christmas morning. And not even a month or two of Black Fridays will ever replace that feeling.


©MMXVIII. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer