Have Gingerbread Latte, Will Travel (maybe): A Mini-Memoir of Black Fridays Past and Present

Picture of actual table with virtual Black Friday schmear

With Thanksgiving done and dusted, 2020 thankfully nears its end as the holidays begin. While it all seems a little different this year, some people still mark the start of the season with Santa rolling down 34th Street at the Macy’s parade in New York. Others count the arrival of the tree: for Bostonians, it begins with lighting of the Prudential Center tree. But, for our family, there is one event that defines the true arrival of Christmas. It is known to us as the High Holiday, a time when all good people gather together for one cause. It is the thrill of the hunt. It is the miracle of Black Friday.

For over thirty years, on the morning after Thanksgiving, I have dragged myself out of bed before dawn to join the throngs of crazed shoppers seeking a bargain. Miserable at first, I pull myself together, just enough to be presentable. Once on the road, the excitement builds. As I enter the first store, the exhilaration sparked by Christmas carols and signs touting ‘half off’, or ‘buy one-get one free’ overtakes my malaise, triggering my focus. Like a heat seeking missile, I zoom in on the best deals and, amassing my hoard, I make my way to the register, coupons and debit card in hand.

In the early days, I brought a friend along to join in on the fun. While it was nice to have the company, having someone in tow inhibited my free-wheeling antics. We negotiated our destinations and I weighed my goals against her plans. But Black Friday is no time for compromise. It is serious business. Before long, the appeal of companionship lost out to sheer determination. I had things to do and no one would be getting in my way.

About twenty five years ago, I bent my own rules when I allowed my daughter, Lisa, to tag along on my Black Friday adventures. She had watched me, year after year, drag bag upon bag into the house, the whole operation complete before noon. Even though she begged to join me, I waited until the time was right: a time when she was too old for surprises under the tree and strong enough to carry the bags to the car, a perfect combination.

Memories of Black Fridays Past always bring a smile to my face. After Tim cleared the Thanksgiving dinner dishes, Lisa and I took over the dining room table, dissecting the ad-thick Thanksgiving Day Boston Globe, prioritizing and strategizing our approach for the next day’s attack. We compared prices and looked for the best ‘early bird’ specials. Black Friday demands a special kind of dedication and I couldn’t have asked for a better acolyte. It was a religion of our creation and we, as the High Priestesses, had written the bible.

We always left the house as the sun rose, stopping at Starbucks for one of their seasonal lattes: gingerbread for Lisa, eggnog for me, always made with skim milk. Taking a seat in the comfier chairs, we laid out the final plan. Fortified for the excursion, we set off to the wilds of places like Old Navy and Michael’s Crafts. 

Those years when we filled the car high and deep with boxes hold a special place in my heart. Televisions we didn’t need, exercise equipment that morphed into clothes racks, and more and more decorations–those kind of purchases defined the spirit of Black Friday! Times when we pulled into the driveway at nine a.m. to unload, only to embark on the next phase of the project were my favorites. Then, 2020 happened.

Lisa and I saw it coming, and we sensed impending loss and disappointment. With the pandemic raging, how could we think about immersing ourselves in a bath of virus while seeking bargain priced things we probably didn’t need anyways? Still, we didn’t want to give up our tradition. We both knew it was about more than spending money. It was a rite of female bonding and there had to be a way without risking a variety of mortal danger much worse than the average Black Friday carnage.

Last Friday morning, Lisa ventured solo to Starbucks and secured our lattes. I cleared off the kitchen table, leaving in the center only the pile of ads and coupons I had collected over the past few weeks. With separate computers in front of us, we sat at either end of the table, masked, socially distanced, and committed to our pandemic version of Black Friday. When Lisa asked, “What do you have for Macy’s coupons over there?”, I tossed a ‘$15 off of $40’ gem across the expanse of Thanksgiving, fruit-themed tablecloth. We both dug through our text messages for Bed Bath and Beyond alerts. We discussed the merits of Snapfish, versus Vistaprint, versus Shutterfly for our Christmas cards, comparing discounts and layouts. For the first time, Molly, my ten-year-old granddaughter joined us for our watered-down, computer-generated, shopping spree. We ushered in a new day of Black Friday shopping, Pandemic edition, and it wasn’t all bad.

When the shopping gets tough, the real shoppers find an alternative and, while it was fun, I still long for a return to normal, in general. I miss hugging my kids and grandkids, or going out to restaurants without thinking twice about dying. I anxiously await a day when I can leave the house without a mask in hand. But at the moment, while it’s fresh in my mind, I really miss the pre-Pandemic version of Black Friday. In the meantime, we always have computers, coupons,  and a Starbuck latte in hand to simulate the feeling until the real thing hopefully comes around again.

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