Today is Black Friday. I don't really know what that is. It's like the after Christmas sales – but, weirdly, before Christmas. I remember people talking about it last year, and I'm pretty sure somebody died (really?! Somebody check that for me…), but before last year I'd never heard of it, and I'm still not sure where it came from. There are so many sales, seasonal events, one-day brand events, or whatever, now that the really special occasion is when the products are full-price – most products spend more time on special offer than at full price, and shops should really give up the pretence and just admit that the 'reduced' prices are actually the real prices. Whatever the price is, though, it's pretty unedifying to fight someone in a supermarket over who gets the last George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Grilling Machine on the shelf. What are you people thinking of?! It's madness!
Christmas adverts have evolved until now there's an obligation to make an advert which doesn't just shamelessly flog worthless tat to Christmas shoppers but is practically a miniature motion picture with a raft of characters with complex backstories, an unexpected plot twist and an uplifting yet thoughtful moral message. A few years back, adverts were just a thing which happened when you were watching TV – a good opportunity to get up and make a cup of coffee or find the cat. Now, people eagerly await the smug, kitschy Christmas adverts the way they look forward to the next episode of their favourite television programmes.
For some reason, supermarkets have now entered into a competition to see who can stuff as many animals one inside the other. The lower budget the supermarket, the more different animals they try to cram in there. When I was growing up, you had your roast goose or your roast turkey, with potatoes, vegetables, gravy, whatever – these days, you can head down to your local Nisa Today and pick up a gorgeous roasted goat stuffed with a monkey stuffed with a turkey stuffed with a chicken stuffed with an otter stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a shrew (serves 4) for only a tenner. I suppose the next step is to start doing the same thing with vegetables? Roast potatoes stuffed with parsnips stuffed with carrots stuffed with sprouts stuffed with peas?
We don't even call it Christmas now, do we? It's the holiday season – or, worse, the party season. Y'see, we have to give the impression that the entire period of time after the end of the Bonfire Night celebrations up until the bitter, throbbing regrets of New Year's Day is one long string of end-to-end parties and social occasions – each filled to bursting with laughter, jollity, scintillating conversations, exciting sex, memories to cherish forever, and tiny little cocktail sausages which other people have touched. The party season, where everyone always look incredible, and no one is ever unhappy. Yeah, right!
Christmas used to be a time of worship – for those of a particular religious bent – or else a time to see family, catch up with old friends, relax, and enjoy yourself. Recently it seems to have become a parade of saccharine clichés, each rooted in hollow, mindless consumerism instead of anything meaningful or personal.
The changes I've written about are all very, very recent. But Tom Lehrer summed up the spirit of it all, long before 'Black Friday' or any of this other stuff existed:
Christmas! What happened to you?