The Vazquez family pledged several years ago to boycott Black Friday. They’ve managed to keep their pledge despite mounting pressure with the advent of Black Thursday and Christmas carols replacing mall Muzak at Halloween and Santa inflating on the neighbor’s lawn while the Thanksgiving turkey is still roasting.
“We decided to avoid the hectic crowds and realized the deals aren’t worth the insanity,” Jeni Vazquez said.
She spent Thanksgiving hosting a feast for 30 relatives and friends. On Friday, she and her family chose a Christmas tree at the firefighters’ lot in Coral Gables and steadfastly stuck with their traditions.
“Instead of shopping, we eat leftovers, put up decorations, listen to Christmas music, make Christmas cookies and get into a peaceful holiday mood,” said Vazquez’s daughter, Samantha, 10. “We also save the bottom slice of the tree trunk and write the date and our names on it.”
Black Friday usually signals the start of Stress Season every year. It’s a peculiarly American mania to grab the best bargains, even if it means standing in line at 3 a.m., even if you don’t need that 65-inch TV for your bathroom.
The consumer frenzy continues with Cyber Monday. Then there’s the compulsion to erect more elaborate outdoor light displays, send a million Christmas cards, attend a billion parties, wear the most stylish festive clothing, hang the mistletoe, order the fattest pig and expertly cook Porky in the Caja China. Oh, and stock the champagne and fireworks for New Year’s Eve. Plus, Hanukkah comes early in 2018 (Dec. 1) so that’s eight nights of gifts.
Stress Season gets earlier, longer and more anxiety-packed each year. You’ve barely had time to digest the pumpkin pie and you’re at Dolphin Mall buying presents. The 12 Days of Christmas? Try 37. Pretty soon we’ll be decking the halls right after Labor Day. Eat, drink and be weary.
“Everything is so fast-forwarded these days. I went to Party City the week before Thanksgiving to get some Thanksgiving decorations and they said those had all been put away to make room for Christmas decorations,” Vazquez said.
“Nobody pauses to enjoy the moment. It’s a constant rush to ‘What’s next? What’s next?’ ”
Black Friday leads to the Saturday hangover of buyer’s remorse. The love and gratitude that should define the holidays get supplanted by guilt and disappointment, said Michael Molthan, an expert on addiction.
“What people are feeling is fear because of all this advertising to get the new gadget and the latest technology or you will be left behind,” Molthan said. “We see people running around, buying stuff, or we buy stuff we don’t need, like a fur coat in Miami, and we think, ‘Everything is perfect in the world, except for mine. Poor me. Pour me a drink.’ We feel shame that we don’t measure up. Everyone is so focused on Dec. 25 that they forget the safest place in the world is right here, right now.”
Molthan was a successful luxury home builder in Dallas until he became addicted to drugs and alcohol, got arrested 27 times, spent four years in jail and wound up living on the streets.
Alcoholics Anonymous refers to Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve as the Bermuda Triangle. It’s a dangerous time for addicts. And for people with depression. And for people watching their weight.
“You think you can join in the celebrations, but if you’re an addict, it’s the perfect storm for a relapse,” said Molthan, who talks about recovery on his radio show, M2 The Rock. “The disease wants you to go into the future alone, where you feel fearful and anxious, or you run to the past, where you feel shame and anger.”
Social media has amped up peer pressure, and feelings of inadequacy reach their peak during Stress Season, Vazquez said.
“People post about their ski vacation in Colorado, or they got this great new car, or here’s a beautiful perfect picture of us — it promotes jealousy and discontent in your life for no reason,” she said. “On social media you’re watching everybody else’s highlight reel while watching your own blooper reel.”
Paul Boutin said he opened Firefighters’ Christmas Trees sales a week earlier this year. His customers demanded it.
“They were calling, calling, calling,” said Boutin, who expected to sell 400 trees on Friday. “ ’We want our trees now.’ It’s crazy.’”
Some folks are fighting back against holiday angst. There’s a backlash against Black Thursday.
“Only 24.67 percent of Americans are actually in favor of Thanksgiving openings,” said Phil Dengler of BestBlackFriday.com. More stores were closed this year than last year, and Facebook groups have popped up in opposition to “greedy” retailers that make their employees work on Thanksgiving Day, he said. The Facebook page Boycott Black Thursday criticized Target for being open and praised Kay Jewelers for deciding to close, telling followers, “You can’t purchase happiness!” Dengler is predicting $7.25 billion in Cyber Monday sales, more than double 2016 sales.
At Lanes men’s clothing store in South Miami, owner Ed Boas was offering 40 percent off on Friday but he refuses to open on Thanksgiving Day, as he has for 40 years.
“I’m in favor of people staying home with their families on Thanksgiving,” he said. “The trend toward starting sales earlier probably started with one big box store thinking they could get a jump on everybody. But if nobody did it, ultimately we’d all probably do the same amount of business.”
Boas sees a comeback for brick-and-mortar clothing stores as customers find the dissatisfaction of the online shopping experience (clothes don’t fit, the colors are wrong, it’s not as fun) outweighs the convenience. When they visit Lanes this season, he’ll be ready.
“Like any retailer, I have mixed feelings about the holidays,” he said. “I look forward to it, business-wise, but I don’t get to see as much of my family when I’m working all the time. You have to learn how to handle the stress and keep things in perspective.”