Creating Your Black Friday Traditions

Welcome to the holiday shopping season. Where the same thing happens every year.

The same damn thing.

While the crazed and wild eyed stampede into the late night/early morning hours to acquire their iPads, TVs, handbags and other assorted crap no one needs for a successful and happy life, I was doing the same thing I always do this time of year.

Namely, drooling on my pillow. Watching the back of my eyelids.

The previous night at my in-laws was another Thanksgiving success, breaking bread with family and overindulging a bit on the turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and assorted vegetables and appetizers.

And don’t get me started on the pumpkin pie.

Whether it was the food, or perhaps that one extra cocktail, the morning came slowly. As I opened my eyes, the digital clock across the room read 9:30.

9:30?? WTF?? I have to get the dog his breakfast, and then outside to do his business. It’s late!

One problem. The dog was still sleeping as well. Thanksgiving can be tiring to our canine counterparts, too.

When Black Friday Comes

Cooper - the last member of the family I expect to over sleep
Cooper – the last member of the family I expect to over sleep

And so begins the biggest shopping day of the year in our house. In typically tardy fashion. I’m not sure if you’d call what we do traditions, but my family spends the post-Thanksgiving day pretty much the same way every year. For example:

After rolling bleary-eyed out of bed, it’s coffee time. After Cooper is taken care of, we’re ready for our morning ritual. If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know we rarely go out for coffee. Not with our full size steel espresso pot on the stove top, standing at the ready.

Strong, creamy, and just like my Nonna used to make. We enjoy this every day, but today, it’s a special cup.

After some chatting in the kitchen, and a couple of phone calls to relatives, my son decides he wants to start a new Black Friday tradition. A little game of hoop in the driveway, on this sub thirty degree day.

It’s a new tradition because we just got the basketball set-up this summer, found on Craig’s List for a fraction of its original cost. Thank you, nice neighbor.

Researching new portable basketball hoops with full size backboards, the prices ranged from $300 to $800 to start. We got our slightly used one for under $120.

Boom! How’s that for savings? And I didn’t even have to wait in a line. Take that, Black Friday!

Relaxation And Entertainment

After a half hour of exercise, I decide to come back in the house and burn a little time on-line by entertaining myself with tales of Black Friday stupidity.

Did you know that fifteen thousand people waited in line for Macy’s flagship store in New York City to open its doors?

Fifteen thousand!

Horrified by what I was reading, I shut the laptop down to go to another Black Friday tradition, house hold chores. Since I’m still a little groggy from my overload of turkey, I’m not going to do much, just vacuum the hall stairs that need cleaning. That one task wears me out.

Physically, I’m not worth much today. A perfect opportunity to write a blog post. And here we are.

Winding It Down

As I write this, my wife is watching a quality show on PBS, which is commercial free. Good thing, because the Black Friday ads on other channels attempt to make all of us look like total jackasses who are concerned with nothing but shopping, over consumption, and greed.

Since we’re not contributing to traffic jams on roads and in stores, there obviously won’t be an over indulgent trip to a restaurant, either. We’ll be eating at home, with a mouth watering rendition of homemade macaroni and cheese, made with rigatoni, cheddar, swiss, and parmigiano reggiano.

Decadent. And again, a fraction of the cost of the Olive Garden meals that shoppers will consume today after their exhausting marathon. After all of their “savings” goals have been met.

After dinner, we’ll probably relax again after the dishes are done. I may take my son to my Dad’s house for a visit, or we could just wind down with an old movie. Hopefully, with as little advertisement as possible. I’m mentally scarred from the limited ads I’ve seen already.

Another year, another Black Friday passed. We’ve lost out again. No big deals, no rude shoppers, no shoulder to shoulder jostling for the latest designer labels. No stress. No generous savings from inflated retail prices.

Unless you are of the mindset that saving 100% is absolutely the best deal you can get.

Promise and Pain: The Year of the Unforgettable

Image - Wikipedia Image – Wikipedia

When John F. Kennedy made his now iconic address to the nation concerning the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, two young boys sat side by side, taking it all in. It was dramatic prime time viewing, in which nervous Americans were informed of missile sites primed to attack our shores just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

My cousin (Little) Anthony along with my uncle (Big) Anthony watched transfixed as the President told them of “a clear and present danger”, and then spoke of initiated steps for the defense of our security from the Russian and Cuban threat.

My uncle’s response to the telecast?

“Well, there goes Christmas!”

My uncle was just a boy, knowing nothing of political strife, or wars between countries, or the madness of men seeking to rule the world.

He cared about his family, and about how this new situation with the President would ruin the holidays.

Their paths would converge again, in 1963, as darkness would fall and the world, and its history, would change in a profound way.

Nothing But The Pain

I was born in the middle of a ferocious snowstorm in March of that year, a new member of a family that was growing and becoming more prosperous. My parents hadn’t been married a year yet, and here I was already making my appearance.

The first child and grandson, I was new royalty, and these were happy times. The American Dream was being formed right in our household. An occasion to celebrate.

It was a time of celebration that was short lived. My uncle passed away only months after I was born, leaving a gaping hole in our family, and my grandparents wracked with grief and despair.

They had nothing now but the pain, and their adopted country soon followed suit. The year got no easier with America’s deepening involvement in Vietnam, escalation of racial tension in the south, and the final blow – the assassination of the President.

In the working class neighborhood where my family lived, the same shock was felt everywhere when hearing of the nature of Kennedy’s death. They had heard it on radio, read it in a special afternoon edition of the hometown newspaper.

If you were able to afford a television, you watched as Walter Cronkite gave you the timeline of events, wiping his eyes because he knew a promising young life had been cut short. The axis of history had been moved.

The Promise

Today, fifty years later, I find it hard to believe that my grandparents gave the President’s killing more than a brief thought. A life they held close, their Anthony, had already been cut short. There was no grief left to offer the Kennedys, or our country. They couldn’t have cared.

As my cousin said to me in a phone conversation, “It took them a really long time to get over it”. If they did at all.

1963 was my year, my beginning.

The year that began with much promise on a winter’s night took a turn down a wrong highway and could not turn back.

Our nation, with that promise of hopes and dreams to be fulfilled, became a bleak and bitter landscape. In Washington. In Dallas. On the edge of my town, in a house on a corner lot where my grandparents lived, there was sadness.

Fifty years later, there is remembrance. Our country was changed, our lives were altered. The promise was taken away, and we can never know what might have been.

We can only remember.

Celebrating the Holidays, Old-School Style

xmastree_As Charlie Brown lamented so many years ago, I also wish for a time when the holidays weren’t represented as being crass and overly commercial. I’m not going to say I didn’t open more than my fair share of gifts when I was younger, ’cause you know I did.

But there is a craziness that surrounds the holidays now that didn’t seem to be there when I was a kid. Yes, our family tree had plenty of presents around it. I remember getting the toys I wanted as a boy, and the record albums on my list when I was a teen (“Frampton Comes Alive!“), but it didn’t seem gifts were all that expensive back then.

Nowadays your toys – electronics and gaming systems – can run into several hundred dollars a shot. For one gift. Talk about your financial pressure.

For those of you that would like Christmas suggestions that tend to lean old-school (what, no Lexus or Mercedes tied up with a big red bow?), I offer up the following:

Make the Holiday a No Shopping Zone – Although Black Friday isn’t something I participate in anyway, is it really necessary for those who do to push it up into Thanksgiving? I know it’s old-school thinking, but no one needs to shop on a holiday. Let the retail workers have time with their families. And give the tryptophan pumped bodies of potential shoppers a little more time to recuperate from that second piece of pecan pie.

Don’t Break the Bank – Americans plan to spend an average of $846.00 this year for Christmas gifts, up 14% from the previous year (credit: Experian). I know, I know…what bad economy? For all of the hyperbole of our country sliding into the shitter, our citizens seem to be taking a lot of trips to Wal Mart. I’m hoping to spend less than the average this year myself. I’m thinking most of that $854 per household is getting spent with a sliding credit card. Not good.

Celebrate with Cash – Don’t want to run that insane gauntlet of gift purchases, whether on-line or brick and mortar? Don’t bother. Do what my grandmother did, and give out bank envelopes with cash!

  • Everybody loves cash
  • You save the time you would have spent shopping (win!!)
  • You may save money as well. You know you would have spent more on a gift – slip your loved ones a nice crisp $20 bill instead.

Make Meals a Holiday Centerpiece – This is one aspect of holiday celebrating that isn’t too difficult to pull off. Everybody loves the holiday meal! The Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing are ubiquitous, but Christmas is also a great opportunity to pack on major calories as well! From the Christmas ham with all the trimmings – and by trimmings, I mean trays lined with manicotti and lasagna – to our old fashioned Christmas Eve fishes, the main holiday attraction for many of us remains the food.

Leave the Stress Behind – Holiday stress factors cited in recent research are lack of time (up to 69%), lack of money (up to 69%), and pressure to give or get gifts (up to 51%). Sounds to me like some folks could use reacquainting with the original idea of Christmas – the birth of Christ, remember? – and forget about the materialism for awhile and approach from a different perspective.

On December 26th, all that anxiety about gift giving seems a little silly, doesn’t it?

  • Hug a friend or loved one
  • Listen to Christmas music
  • Decorate the tree together
  • Say a prayer for the troops
  • Go to church
  • And by all means, say “Merry Christmas”!

Look at the title at the top, and take out the key word: Celebrate. You only have so many opportunities to do so.

So This Is Christmas…

So this is Christmas,  and what have you done, another year over, a new one just begun. And so this is Christmas, I hope you have fun, the near and the dear ones, the old and the young.

A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fears.

Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon/ Yoko Ono 1971

Christmas music starts on the radio in November, and pretty much continues to the end of the year. It can be enough to drive you insane.

But, along with any Christmas tune by Frank and Dino, the Lennon/Ono collaboration that became Happy Xmas is one of those Christmas songs that I could listen to repeatedly without getting sick of it.

It’s just a shame that its message is as relevant today as it was in 1971. A world without war to celebrate Christmas during our lifetimes? Not likely.

Photo by Gabrielle DeGiorgio

Post-Christmas, some other thoughts running around in my head:

I’m torn about gifts – While I think that my kids (and my wife and I) got far too many gifts again this year, fighting it may not be fair, and is probably a lost cause anyway. It’s a perfect right of their grandparents to spoil them as they see fit. So they get multitudes of gifts.

I’ll probably do the same thing when I’m a grandfather. I can’t bitch about the gift giving methods of anyone else when I know future Joe could be just as guilty.

As much as I like to complain about the lack of spirituality around the Christmas holiday, there wasn’t a seat to be had at the church where I attended Mass. In fact, there wasn’t much standing room, either. Elbow to elbow.

The fact that the church was packed reminded me of Christmas celebrations in past years, when I attended Mass with my grandparents and other family members. In the days when going to church was an essential activity in late December. That’s old school stuff that has a place here in 2011.

Next week, there will be plenty of available space. Next week, I’ll be able to sit if I want to.

Avoiding advertising is nearly impossible – The ramping up of ads proclaiming the latest and greatest discounts for Christmas sales is more intense than ever. To avoid it altogether is a tall order that’s hard to achieve. Materialism is front and center and it all reeks of receive, receive, receive. If you can get through the entire season without being tempted to spend more money than you actually have, congratulations.

And on that note…

The American economy is far too dependent on holiday shopping – A large part of our economy is based on consumer spending. What a house of cards. I can understand the fortunes of a retail chain bouncing up and down with the sales numbers, but…

Consumer confidence?

The stock market?

Crazy stuff. Thankfully, the average consumer was more than willing to put themselves into hock this holiday season to help out the economy. It was said that Americans were suffering from “frugal fatigue”, and their inclination was to spend their way out of it, to make themselves feel better.

Ho ho ho…

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Running Out Of Time? Try This Brilliant Christmas Shopping Idea

It’s getting close to crunch time. If you haven’t gotten your remaining holiday gifts for the people you buy for, you’re running out of days and minutes.

For many, panic mode is soon to set in.

My wife was feeling the pressure. With the nephews and other relatives still on the list, I saw her mind starting to race, and her actions becoming harried. I’ve already had to tell her to go slower.

Women especially feel obligated to purchase gifts for everyone, as an expression of love. Even though most of us have everything we need, the ladies (and a lot of men) have hit the malls in record numbers.

I am of the opinion that if you’re becoming short on time, maybe gift cards are your solution. But my wife won’t have it. “What seven year old wants to open a gift card?”

She’s right about that.

But, what seven year old (or person of any age) would not like to open an envelope with some cold, hard cash in it?

If you’ve read this far, some of you may be thinking, “What an unthoughtful gift!” And to that I say, keep an open mind. When I was younger, I was privy to the Christmas shopping genius that was my Grandmother.

Her shopping method? Order her grandson to get in his car, and take a trip downtown to the bank. When there, grab a couple dozen fancy bank Christmas envelopes, go to the teller, and make a withdrawal of varied denominations of dead presidents.

Boom. Christmas shopping completed.

Now, while it may not seem thoughtful to you to give cash gifts I, like Jimmy Fallon, can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like money. Aside from the fact that practically no one will say “You gave me money??” with a disdainful look on their face, there are other advantages to the glorious gift of cash:

There is no stress involved – The process for cash gifts is one stop shopping. The bank is your store, and the teller your retail clerk. “Can I help you?” “Why, yes, I’d like a pound of twenties, please.” And you’re done. No running from store to store. No jostling with others to be first in line.

And no pepper spray. Easy breezy.

You take away the possibility of overspending – At the bank, you can’t buy another toy other than what was on your list, and there’s no sneaking a little something for yourself there, while you’re buying for others. Even if you really deserve it.

If you’re gift giving budget is $300 or $500, there’s no overspending. That’s what you get.

You can focus on family and fun – Gram had no time to go to stores, unless it was to the import store for cheese and mortadella (I drove there, also). She had people to make happy, and mountains of food to prep and cook. And she had to go to church, too. Because that’s what the holiday is about anyway.

You help the economy! – Yes, you do help the economy when you shop at Macy’s or J.C. Penney’s. I’m aware of that. But why not help the economy and your mental state? Instead of going on expeditions through shopping mall jungles looking for hidden treasure, admit to yourself that cash is the perfect gift! It’s a win win! The economy gets a little boost, and you don’t feel like strangling your fellow shoppers!

My Grandmother handed out envelopes like she was the Queen handing out royal appointments. She gave gifts to her favorite people, and every single one of them appreciated the gesture. She would be met every once in a while by an “Oh, you shouldn’t have!”, but every gift was accepted.

I even tried to tell her on a couple of occasions, “Gram, I don’t want your money. You do enough for me.” Remember, I ate meals at her house 300 days out of the year. Or more.

“Oh, come on!!” was the response I would hear. And my hand would extend to take the envelope.

This week, don’t wrack your brain trying to buy yet another gift. Use a gift from an old Sicilian lady instead. Stick a greenback in an envelope, relax, and enjoy the sights, sounds, food, and events of the holiday with those people closest to you. That’s the true spirit of Christmas…

Buon Natale!