Missouri Life columnist Ron Marr is not ready for prime time. He misses the Sears and Montgomery Ward cataloges and muses on what “Black Friday” really means. Maybe we should all consider what the holidays are really about.

Illustration by Merit Myers

By Ronn Marr

IT’S RUMORED THAT BACK IN THE OLDEN DAYS, people sometimes communicated in full sentences rather than via cryptic acronyms and poop emojis. Hard though it may be to comprehend, they spoke on the phone or in person. They shopped in actual stores, and come October, their mailboxes were stuffed with a couple of 70-pound, 8,000-page Christmas catalogs featuring seemingly endless offerings from Sears and Montgomery Ward.

Parents and kids alike spent hours perusing these wish books, compiling lists that included everything from Barbies, Hot Wheels, and BB guns, to washing machines, air compressors, and sofas. Some far-rural folk ordered by mail, enclosing a check along with a hand-printed form, but most people shopped in person, believing you needed to see and touch an item before shelling out hard cash.

There really weren’t many discounts available in the lead-up to Christmas. You could fight the crowds on December 26th for whatever trash was left—I once witnessed a couple of old ladies getting in a brawl over discounted wrapping paper—but that was about it.

TV changed all that when an unknown ad executive with sociopathic tendencies invented the idea of Black Friday, a raucous retail rampage held the day after Thanksgiving. On Black Friday, merchants slashed prices, and sometimes overly competitive shoppers slashed each other. It was one part sale-of-the-century and two parts professional wrestling. Black Friday always offered a few bargains, but unless you enjoyed concussions and a mild trampling, it was best viewed from afar.

Then the Internet came along, and things got really weird. Tech moguls with sociopathic tendencies (mostly known) discovered there were billions to be made by creating heretofore unknown holidays that celebrated nothing. You may or may not have noticed, but Black Friday in 2023 might as well just be called “Friday.”

Super-special, once-in-a-lifetime holiday shopping events have become ubiquitous and constant. Thanks to Amazon’s marketing department, Prime Day is almost as popular as Christmas and Thanksgiving. I’m surprised they don’t rename it St. Bezos Day. Last summer, running concurrently with the Prime hysteria, a host of stores (Macy’s, Home Depot, and countless others) came up with Black Friday in July. Walmart, not to be outdone by Amazon, runs “30 Days of Black Friday,” starting in October.

This makes zero sense. I’m aware of the phrase “a month of Sundays,” but “a month of Black Fridays” does not fall trippingly from the tongue.

That’s just the tip of the consumer iceberg. Cyber Monday takes place on the Monday following what used to be the original Black Friday. It should not be confused with either Amazon’s new and improved Black Friday or Prime Day, even though each hootenanny features exactly the same stuff. Cyber Monday was originally geared toward enticing people to shop online, which seems a little redundant since pretty much everyone has been shopping online for nearly 20 years.

That leads to a confounding enigma. If a tree falls in the forest every second of every hour of every day, is it still a forest? When everything is special, then doesn’t the special become merely ordinary? Are you really getting a great deal during these omnipresent sales events, or are you just getting ripped off and overcharged the rest of the time?

I feel most sorry for Santa. It must confuse him mightily when his calendar app informs him that it’s Christmas in July. If every day is a holiday, then aren’t holidays a trifle moot?

I’ll bet Santa misses the Monkey Wards catalog.

Ron Marr: Today’s Big Deal

Article originally published in the October 2023 issue of Missouri Life.