There's quite a bit of grey to think about with Black Friday

This week, I’ve been frustrated with some comments about Black Friday. For many, the idea of Black Friday is wrong. I understand where they’re coming from, but the reality is that as long as consumers show up, the hype isn’t going to die down. 

Black Friday used to be more commonly known as “the day after Thanksgiving”. For as long as I can remember, that day has marked the official kick off to Christmas shopping. I have personally gone shopping on the day after Thanksgiving to take advantage of the sales as I completed my shopping lists for Christmas.

I once worked 14 hours on the day after Thanksgiving. I was absolutely exhausted by the end of the day. The atmosphere was happy, energetic, excited. People were gearing up for my personal favorite holiday of the year - Christmas. Working that day was actually fun. I was even interviewed for the local news.

Though the term “Black Friday” has been around for decades, it became a marketing ploy only in the last decade.

As with most things, the press has taken isolated yet extreme incidents and created an impression of rampant violence fueled by the greed of American consumers. 

I’m not a fan of what Black Friday has become. I think many of the “deals” are suspect and it saddens me to see shoppers worked into a frenzy to spend money in order to save a few dollars. If I lived in the US, I would no longer participate in any way with what it has become. I also won’t participate in the burgeoning Black Friday sales that have made their way into Canada. (And, for the record, we avoid Boxing Day as well.)

There’s been a lot of disturbing criticism of Black Friday that hits home to me, because it comes across as judgmental, uses generalizations or makes accusations of hypocrisy. 

The judgmental criticism is usually centered around the idea that Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family. And I totally agree. The Black Friday sales that are creeping into Thanksgiving Day (Black Thursday) - ugh. I just hope people boycott those retailers. However, the day after Thanksgiving sales really aren’t any different than Boxing Day in Canada. And though there haven’t been the same reports of the kinds of crazed shoppers that have happened in the US, it doesn’t mean that can’t or won’t happen here. 

I’ve seen a lot of generalizations that lump all Americans into various unflattering categories (both implied and explicit) - selfish, materialistic, greedy, etc. Sometimes generalizations can be used to make a point and recognizing that they are generalizations can soften the impact. But there are a lot of people in the US who are really good people. Some of them choose not to participate in Black Friday. Others do participate. The vast majority of the shopping that goes on happens with long waits, but customers remain civilized. Unfortunately, that’s boring, so it doesn’t make the news or internet memes. 

Finally there’s the hypocrisy claims. Suddenly it’s bad to be thankful Thursday and then go out and buy things Friday. I could probably come up with a list of dozens of reasons that people might be out shopping that don’t have anything to do with acquiring more posessions. One happens to be the original purpose of Black Friday - Christmas shopping (presumably for others). And so what if I go out and buy something new for myself? Does doing so the day after Thanksgiving make me somehow less thankful?

Instead of questioning the motivations of those who are going out on Black Friday to shop, perhaps it’s more productive to think about the reasons we’ve gotten to the point of frenzied shopping in the first place.

  1. We have had years of downturn in the economy, workers who can’t find jobs, etc. 
  2. There is more pressure than ever before to keep up with all the latest and greatest stuff - affordable or not.
  3. People want to save money wherever they can to live up to a certain standard.
  4. Some people think they will feel better if they go shopping (retail therapy).

I’m not so naive that I think everyone is out there due to misfortune or for altruistic reasons. However, I know that not everyone is out there for the negative reasons that are being thrown about on social media lately. 

There are over 300 million imperfect humans in the US. There are over 30 million imperfect humans in Canada. Both countries have their pros and cons. Both countries have awesome people and not-so-awesome people. Neither country is better than the other. 

In my opinion, it is foolish to think that Canada is immune to these kinds of incidents, especially as they’ve already happened here before. So, perhaps it’s time to stop being critical and start speaking with your feet by walking away from Black Friday. That’s the only way retailers are ever going to tone it down.

Anticipation and thanks

Source: USA Federal HolidaysToday is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. 

I miss it.

The last time I truly celebrated Thanksgiving with my family was 12 years ago. It was the same week I left Florida to move to Canada. 

Thanksgiving was always a special time. My mom and I stayed up ridiculously late nearly every year mixing fillings and rolling out pie crusts. We always made about seven pies. Two to three pumpkin, one cherry (for me), one mincemeat, one-two pecan, sometimes apple. We packed them up in our two big Tupperware pie carriers and loaded them in the car for the trek to my great uncle and aunt’s house. They lived on a river and we drove three hours every Thanksgiving morning with the whole family in tow to bring our contribution to the annual family gathering.

We always stopped in the same diner in Perry, Florida. I always tried to avoid breathing in the putrid smell of the paper mill. Eventually I gave up and tried to get used to it. Both attempts were futile - it’s too pungent to block or get used to in a short one-hour visit.

By the time we got to my great uncle and aunt’s house, some family had already arrived and lunch preparations were well underway. Thankfully, there was time for a lengthy trip in the canoe or a lively croquet match amongst the trees in the front yard. Sometimes some of the family would even go fishing. The adults enjoyed time together visiting and catching up on the news of the year. My brothers and I, along with our cousins, scattered to the places we were most interested in on that particular day. 

I don’t think I went a single year without heading out in the canoe. Or the motorboat if my cousin was up to it. I even enjoyed playing croquet. We found ways to make a seemingly boring game fun. (Hint: It is incredibly satisfying to send your brother’s or father’s formerly-in-the-lead ball flying well off the course.)

This year I’m thankful that in a few short weeks I’m going to have the absolute pleasure of introducing my family to my most amazing little boy for the very first time. I’m going to meet my two youngest nieces that I have only known in pictures since their births. 

Every time I think about it, I want to whoop for joy and do cartwheels (except I never learned how). It’s way past time for a visit and I sincerely hope I never go this long without seeing my family ever again.

Whether you’re in the U.S. today or not - be thankful for the people who make up your family. Whether you’ve chosen them, they’ve chosen you or you were thrown together by forces of nature. And if you’re close enough, give them a hug.

So much to be thankful for

Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. Thanksgiving is an important holiday for me. I’m actually quite thankful that it’s a holiday that Canadians celebrate. Though it felt strange at first to celebrate it 6 weeks earlier than I did back home, it would have been stranger still not to celebrate it at all.

One might ask why a day needs to be set aside to practice thankfulness. Perhaps we shouldn’t have to have a special day to be grateful for our blessings. But I truly love the traditions around Thanksgiving. The food preparation that is done as an act of love toward family and/or friends. The hours of visiting, because you have time to do so. The banter and togetherness. Sitting down to a meal with people you may not often have the opportunity to see, much less enjoy a leisurely day together.

What is ingrained in me from my early Thanksgiving memories is staying up until all hours of the night to make what seemed like a dozen pies. The smiles of greeting on faces of family members who saw each other once a year. Watching all of the aunts and one uncle in the kitchen bustling about to finalize all the meal preparations. My aunts telling me how I was expected to help, knowing I better hop-to and not really minding. We all pulled our weight, until the football games started. ;)

At our family gatherings, we played croquet, went canoeing, motor boating, played in the trees around the house, dug out board games and coaxed other cousins into playing. The possibilities were endless while all of the adults made time to visit. Sometimes, one of my aunts or cousins would French braid my (usually very long) hair for me. One time my dad fell out of the canoe into the river and had to wear my cousin’s spare set of all-black biker clothes. We all thought that was pretty funny. Those family gatherings were special because we all made a special effort to be together.

These days, Thanksgiving celebrations with my family are quite a bit more tame, quiet (sort of) and cozy - usually consisting of myself, Matt, Brandon and Matt’s parents. It’s become a tradition for us to host Thanksgiving dinner and I hope we continue to for as long as everyone still wants to do it. I don’t have time to make extravagant dinners very often, so Thanksgiving is a treat for me. I love whipping everything up from scratch - except for the pumpkin in my pies; that comes from a can. I’ve even got the prep work down to less than a day, but we spread it out over longer to keep from going crazy. I’m rather proud of being able to do it, especially since I don’t particularly enjoy cooking day-to-day.

It’s kind of interesting to me that this holiday revolves so much around food. But when I think about my own reasons for enjoying making the dinner, I realize I have the answer to why food is such an integral part. Because it’s a symbol of caring. Nurturing. Provision. Food is a basic need and the provision of it is a gift to those we love who gather with us. Showing with actions that they care. That they are thankful for you being in their life.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends and family in Canada! How are you celebrating this year and what are your favorite traditions?

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The photos in this post are part of a 1-day photo project started by Andrea at a peek inside the fishbowl. Yesterday was 10-10-10. So, to commemorate this rare date all who were interested committed to taking one picture per hour for 10 hours. The rest of my photos are here.

Thankful for Thanksgiving Memories

I spent Thanksgiving weekend feeling thankful for many things. Initially, I was thankful that all of Matt’s family was able to get together for my niece’s first birthday. It’s rare for all of us to be in the same city, let alone the same house together. This was our first chance to meet our niece and it was a really nice day for everyone. The drive took us about 2.5 hours outside of Ottawa through some beautiful scenery. Of course, we weren’t able to get pictures as we drove, but the fall colours were really incredible. Canada is such an extremely beautiful country and I’m thankful that I get to live here and experience it.

After the trip on Saturday, we were all pretty wiped out. Sunday, I woke up feeling pretty cruddy and spent half the day in my pajamas. I was thankful to Matt for taking Brandon out so I could sleep in. I was thankful to Brandon for being such a great kid and being agreeable to seeing less of Mommy so I could get some extra rest. Eventually, I forced myself to get up and get busy. I decided that I wanted to have a Thanksgiving dinner, even if Matt’s parents weren’t going to join us this year. So, armed with nothing more than an idea of what I wanted to do, I went to the store – always a dangerous prospect. I picked up a turkey breast, some potatoes, a couple boxes of stuffing, and the ingredients I needed to make pumpkin pies. I was going to do a “low-key, shortcut Thanksgiving”. Mostly, I just wanted to let Brandon get his first taste of turkey and all the trimmings. I was really having a hard time letting go of our personal “tradition” of having Matt’s parents over for Thanksgiving (sometimes his brother comes, too). This year, we mutually opted out since we were all getting together the day before anyway.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday after Christmas. I love Christmas because I get to go look for that perfect gift for everyone. But it’s lost a little of its appeal over the years. Perhaps I’ll do a Christmas post later, but enough about it now – this is the Thanksgiving post! I love Thanksgiving because it’s all about family. Spending time together, eating, playing games, enjoying just being together and the reminder to be thankful for the many blessings we’re given.

I don’t remember any Thanksgivings prior to about the time I was eight or nine years old, so I couldn’t tell you what we did in my younger years. At some point, though, we started going to my Great Uncle Lloyd’s house on the river in Dunellon, Florida. The first year we went, I think my brothers and I felt like it was way more work than it was worth. We didn’t know the family all that well and my mom had insisted on making more pies than we thought possible for any size group to eat. (Okay, so she probably only made about seven or eight, but when you’re a kid, that’s an awful lot of pie.) We always made the pies the day before Thanksgiving (that’d be Wednesday, after all we’re talking U.S. Thanksgiving here). Since we often all got out of school or off work early, we’d go through making the pie crusts about two at a time until we had all we needed.

The first few years we made the pies, we all seemed to help out, but my older brother, Jim, eventually moved out and over time it turned into something my mom and I did together with some help from my little brother, Paul. We’d spend half the day and most of the night in the kitchen mixing the pies, baking them and watching holiday movies on television whenever we had a bit of lag time. We made pumpkin pies, apple, cherry (my personal request each year), mincemeat and pecan. Then we would all get up way too early on Thanksgiving morning, pack up the pies and pile in the car to join the Chapman family caravan.

We always stopped at this diner in Perry, Florida – every year – to get breakfast. It was a good place to stop, because we were all starving by the time we got there. It was a bad place to stop because there was a paper mill and the whole town reeked. But we never went anywhere else. In truth, the diner we went to was probably not even a 2 star rated establishment. It was mostly clean, the food was good and the people were always friendly, even though they were working on Thanksgiving. From Perry, we’d continue on to my uncle’s house – the whole trip minus the breakfast stop took about 3 hours. So, we usually arrived about an hour or two before the main event – lunch!

The kitchen was always buzzing with the activity of my aunts and female cousins as they finished the meal preparations and set out the food. My uncles and male cousins congregated in various parts of the house to visit and catch up on what had happened over the year. My brothers and I – all of us being a bit younger than our cousins – tended to go off on our own and play. Uncle Lloyd and my dad taught us how to place croquet. It may not have been the “in” game to play, but we had fun anyway. Every year, we would beg Uncle Lloyd (or his son) to get out the canoe and speedboats. We’d spend hours rowing the canoe down the river or buzzing all over the place in the speedboat.

When dinner was ready, we all came in and stood while we said Grace and then everyone would pile their plates high with food before finding a place to eat. With about 30 or more people to accommodate, you tend to stick people wherever they’ll fit. There were “kid” tables and adult tables set up in all sorts of rooms. We all found a spot and ate until we were stuffed! Then came pie time. I always remember being so proud when my aunts complimented my mother on her pie. She loved to make things for people that they would enjoy. Many years later when my grandmother, whose favorite pie was pecan, was diagnosed with diverticulitis, my mother made her a pecan pie with finely chopped pecans so that she would be able to have some. That was just the kind of person she was.

I was genuinely disappointed when we stopped going to the annual Thanksgiving at my Uncle Lloyd’s house. There were many reasons why it ended, but I’ll never forget how wonderful those years were when we got to spend Thanksgiving there. My mom continued to make Thanksgiving a special event at our own home with our immediate family. She really loved doing the big dinner and bringing the family together for a day of purposeful thanks.

I suppose that, in this, I’m a lot like my mom. I’m trying to build traditions for my own family and do things for them that they will enjoy. Thanksgiving is a special holiday. There isn’t a lot of hype around it. It’s not commercialized to the hilt. There’s not a lot of pressure to go and buy things. It’s just about family and being together – whoever you consider your family to be. I guess I’m thankful for all the Thanksgiving memories I have – and all those I’m building for the future.

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