In many families across America, preparing and then devouring the Thanksgiving Day dinner is followed by a quiet evening watching football or a Charlie Brown television special or simply sleeping off the tranquilizing effects of the largest meal you will eat all year. In my family though, the hours after the meal are not for relaxing—they are for strategizing.
At some point on Thanksgiving Day, my dad is sent out to purchase a newspaper. As soon as the pie plates are cleared, my mom, siblings, I, and now my teenaged niece and nephews, place the paper on the living room floor and sit cross-legged in a circle around it. We look like we are about to perform a ritual, and in a way I suppose we are. Mom unfolds the paper, tossing aside the grey newsprint portion and revealing a stack of glossy, colorful advertising circulars. We pass the circulars around the circle one by one, each person flipping through the ads and using black felt-tipped pens to mark items of interest. After cross-referencing and identifying the best deals, the fliers are arranged in a strategic order that was long ago dubbed the “game plan.” We might catch a few hours of sleep prior to rising before the sun. Then we pile into the car, armed with our game plan and mugs of hot tea or cocoa, and join the throng of cars heading up the highway to the shopping centers.
Yes, it is true. I am not ashamed (okay, maybe a little) to admit that for many years, Black Friday has been, and still is, an important part of my family’s Thanksgiving tradition. Coming home loaded with gifts in festively decorated shopping bags can be fun. But it was not until a colleague mentioned the museum’s collection of shopping bags that the connection between shopping and play dawned on me. Love it or hate it (there is no middle ground), nothing crystallizes the connection between play and shopping better than the phenomenon of Black Friday.
My family referred to our shopping itinerary as a “game plan” long before stores started featuring play-related themes in their Black Friday commercials (such as this Target ad, where a woman explains her shopping plan in a manner similar to a football coach addressing his team before a game). My family applies play strategies to almost every aspect of our shopping day, too. In stores where the checkout line snakes all the way around the building, we designate a “goalie” to hold our spot in line while the rest of us get to shop (yes, we realize that some may view this as cheating, but it is rather benign compared to some of the behavior that we witness in the stores). We also routinely play “who found the best deal,” although our version of “winning” usually results in the victor buying the next round of coffee or lunch for those of us who were less fortunate in our ventures.
Unfortunately, as with any game, there can sometimes be bullies, cheaters, and sore losers in the game of shopping. Those who play nicely, however, can enjoy some of the best benefits of play. My family’s Black Friday shopping tradition provides an opportunity to strategize, compete, and, most importantly, to spend time together engaging in an activity that we enjoy. Whether you plan to get up at the crack of dawn following your Thanksgiving dinner or you prefer more relaxed (and sleep-friendly) forms of play on the day after, have a Happy Thanksgiving and a happy Black Friday!
For more on toys, games, and all sorts of other stuff for play—past and present—from Carrie and her museum colleagues, visit The Strong's Play Stuff blog.