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The surprising reason today is ‘Black Friday’

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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On Black Friday in 2010, Buy More Stuff campaigners were out in force with signs at the Seattle Westlake Shopping Center, Seattle, Washington, November 26, 2010 (Credit: John Henderson via Flickr)

Why is today “Black Friday”? I always thought the day was so named because it helps retailers end the year in “the black.” It turns out, we have the Philadelphia police department to thank.

In the early 1960s, it coined the term to describe this annual shopping frenzy. Traffic flooded the streets each year, forcing policemen to work twelve-hour shifts. They invented the title in response. It is not a term of endearment.

Policemen around the country might have an easier day today than in previous years. According to one retailer, “Black Friday doesn’t represent the kickoff to Christmas shopping anymore.” He cites deals that begin Thanksgiving night and carry over all weekend, and the fact that “door buster deals” are now available online. According to another retailer, “Black Friday has morphed from just a one-day event into a month-long spending circus.”

Some retailers have been running Black Friday deals all week. Others are pushing back, refusing to open their doors on Thanksgiving and even today. And experts warn that we can’t always trust the “deals” we see. One advises: “It’s important for shoppers to ignore the Black Friday percent-off claims, as it’s very likely that the advertised amount of the discounts may be inflated.”

I wonder what the first Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving would have thought of the “holiday” that follows it.

Tradition traces Thanksgiving to English Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts, who held a feast with their Native American neighbors in 1621. But Florida historian Michael Gannon says the first thanksgiving feast actually came forty-two years earlier, on September 8, 1565. Colonists in St. Augustine, Florida held a religious service on that day, followed by a communal meal with the local native tribe.

These Spaniards had just arrived in St. Augustine when they held their first thanksgiving service. As their only food was leftovers from their long voyage, their menu was a stew of salted pork and garbanzo beans. Not an appetizing Thanksgiving feast.

Their first act when stepping ashore was noteworthy as well. Father Francisco López, the fleet chaplain, came on land holding a cross. He was followed by expedition leader Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, who knelt and kissed that cross.

However you spend Black Friday, take time today to remember Good Friday. Kneel before the cross. Reflect on Jesus’ love for you as he died in your place, bearing your sin and purchasing your salvation. Consider this fact: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

When we remember the atoning love of God, every day is Thanksgiving.