I’m not always the fondest of turkey, but I always look forward to shopping on Black Friday. Although the day after Thanksgiving is often reduced to “capitalist consumption for the un-woke masses,” it has become a favorite family tradition of time spent with two women I love, my mom and aunt. It always includes a meal (we rarely get to eat together now that we’re on separate coasts) and the belly-aching laughter that always ensues when we’re together, plus a few purse purchases.
To be sure, there’s more than laughs, bargain brawls or door-busting deals associated with Black Friday. In recent years, demonstrations protesting the brutal state-sanctioned violence against black folk, and calling for an end to monetizing holidays have erupted during the busiest day of the year for in-store traffic. For some, Black Friday signals participation in an oppressive capitalist paradigm. And because said system interlocks with racism, sexism, transphobia, anti-immigration and all other forms of oppression, participating in Black Friday shopping can be viewed as supporting unjust systems. For others, it is about savings and discounts on coveted items. But for me, Black Friday shopping is a trip down memory lane and a family ritual.
For years—really pretty much all of my childhood—my mom would leave the house in the cover of night, shortly after I fell asleep. She would be gone for hours, only to descend on the house with shopping bags in the daylight. Weeks later, some of those items would be under the Christmas tree for my two little sisters and me. After taking a mental picture of it, I would gingerly shake the boxes and make sure to return them to their original place. After my mom caught me, she stopped putting names on the gifts until Christmas Eve. But even without name tags, I guessed whose presents were whose, and fooled my impressionable sisters with unfounded pronouncements of what they were getting.
Years later, to celebrate my entry into adulthood—marked by gainful employment as a high school teacher—I purchased my first Coach bag on Black Friday. Because I was shopping with my mother, I bought her one as well—not as a “thank you, Mom, for raising me; I can now buy you things, too,”—no, this was under duress. To be honest, Mama pulled a trick on me that I used to use on her when I was five and wanted ice cream. She squeezed me in a hug and asked in the sweetest voice if I would buy her one. For my grown-ass mama, a soft, buttery leather Coach bag that cost over $200 was her version of a treat that could not be denied. It wasn’t like I could afford it on a teacher’s salary, but the heart wants what it wants. And she was persuasive.
Of course, it was the allure of receiving Christmas gifts that I focused on as a kid—and remember the most. But becoming a working adult gained me entry into the Black Friday Family Club. That’s right, I finally was invited to shop with the adults—a class privilege, no doubt. But I was excited to be officially grown and inducted into their shopping ritual. I noticed that with each year since turning 18, the number of neatly wrapped boxes with red and green bows sitting under the tree with my name on it had dwindled. With no more presents to shake and now with my own money, I could be part of the club. I’d passed the coming-of-age ritual: I was able to do for myself and do for others, at least in a monetary sense and at Christmas time.
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The Black Friday Family Club is a small club, but it’s not intentionally exclusive. The shoppers include my mom (the President) and one aunt (the Queen) because no one else wants to shop with them—most likely because they tend to stay gone for long hours, leaving only when every Kate Spade special has been thoroughly examined. The Queen’s young daughter went one year and complained most of the time about being ready to go. She was promptly dismissed as a prospective member and hasn’t been invited back.
Black Friday shopping with the club entails long days and getting up before the sun; I am now part of this annual routine, and it is the highlight of my Thanksgiving (forget the food). My mama lives in Arizona, my aunt lives in Los Angeles, and I now live in North Carolina. We only get to see each other once, maybe twice a year. Black Friday is definitely always one of those occasions. Keeping the tradition going as much as possible is no small feat, given the distance. We have met up in Los Angeles, Arizona, and last year we transversed the outlets in Las Vegas where another aunt hosted Thanksgiving. Of the 40 people there, no one wanted to go with us—not even my fiancée, who opted instead to stay with my aunt and people she met just hours earlier.
The pleasures of family time and retail therapy aside, being a member of the club is not without its challenges. As the newest—and youngest—member, I still get treated like a scrub. It’s like being able to sit at the adult table for the first time, but not being able to listen to or understand the tea. I often hold the bags and drive them where they want to go; I do have some say, so I don’t complain much. And this special time—which, yes, we’re spending with thousands of other people in public places—allows me to sit and observe these two black women, to see them as sisters and friends—outside of the role of mothers and aunties I thought they singularly played. This is me getting to know them as adults. This is a time where I get to see my mama and aunt relax. Seeing them cackle and crack jokes is the family pinnacle of the year for me. Perhaps if my family were the sort to play an in-house cards tournament after Thanksgiving, as many black families do, we would be around the table playing Bid Whist. But we aren’t.
So those who want to, shop.
As I transition into having my own family, my partner and I probably will not center our holiday around shopping. But, whenever I am in the same city as my mom and aunt, even for years to come, Black Friday shopping will remain a precious part of the time I get to spend with them.
This is the first Thanksgiving my fiancée and I will be celebrating as an engaged couple and our first in North Carolina, so we are staying home and creating new traditions. But because I need a new bag, and for a lot of nostalgic reasons, we are going Black Friday shopping. It won’t be as fun without my mom and aunt. Not to mention that my fiancée’s jaw clenches and her upper body muscles tighten any time I even mention the words “mall,” “shopping,” “me” and “you” in the same sentence. She has given me a time limit of two hours and requested that I identify the stores I plan to patronize in exchange for her “yes” for shopping. This is a sharp turn from my willy-nilly shopping adventures with the club. Any family member bold enough to ask what time we’ll be back from the mall promptly gets a hard side-eye as their answer.
Charmaine Lang is now a Southerner with a forever love for Milwaukee by way of her hometown of South Central, Los Angeles. Winston-Salem, N.C., is where you can catch her looking for the best places to get a pedicure, playing singing bowls, and adjusting to 60-degree weather in November with her fiancée. She is a proud member of Echoing Ida.