Where will it end?
The popularity of Black Friday in Gibraltar and much of the Western world appears to me to be the latest example of the Americanisation – Americanization if you’re American – of popular culture.
Unless you come from another planet you’ll know that on Black Friday shops and stores offer large discounts as an incentive for customers to get into a pre-Christmas spending mood. In the USA it’s celebrated the day after Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday of November.
No doubt aided by the Internet and the advent of online shopping, what began as a strictly American custom has in a relatively short space of time spread across the Atlantic. In the UK its effect has been such that hardly anyone uses the term Black Friday any more to refer to the Friday before Christmas, when the police and emergency services plan for a busy day dealing with intoxicated revellers. Despite initial resistance by some sniffy retailers the American meaning of Black Friday has caught on and last year the total sum spent in Britain on online retail sites alone was £1.23 billion, an increase of 12% over the equivalent day in 2015.
This year, more than ever it seems, Gibraltar’s shops have jumped on the Black Friday bandwagon too, with a generally positive customer response if a GBC TV Newswatch report last week is anything to go by. Here, as in other places, Black Friday has in practice become Black Week as traders offer their discounts for several, not just the one, day. Nor does it necessarily all finish on Friday, with Cyber Monday increasingly popular to round off the Thanksgiving long weekend.
And how long will it be before Thanksgiving itself establishes itself in the West? Ironically in the US as well as in Canada, which celebrates it on a different date, Thanksgiving Day has its roots in English folklore from the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. But whereas in the UK the ritual of giving thanks for the harvest has all but disappeared, in the United States Thanksgiving is the most cherished holiday of the year.
I wonder: will we in Gibraltar ever get to see our chief minister ceremonially “pardon” a Thanksgiving turkey, as Donald Trump did for the first time this year in fulfillment of a long-standing presidential tradition?
Love it or hate it another annual American commemoration, Halloween, is here to stay, even if few of those trick-or-treating are conscious of the date’s religious significance. (“Halloween” is a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve, and precedes All Saints’ Day).
When I began my career as a journalist I was often sent to cover Guy Fawkes Night on the 5 November. It was an occasion the community looked forward to, and bonfires with the accompanying setting off of fireworks were organised in the housing estates and by youth and social clubs. I don’t know to what extent, if at all, these events continue but I’m pretty sure they’ve diminished given the ascendency of Halloween that comes just five days earlier, on the 31 October.
There are of course many other examples of Americanisation, from the adoption of American English words and expressions, to the proliferation of US and US-style shops, restaurants, coffee houses and hamburger joints.
One custom I hope we never see locally is the use of an animal to predict when winter will come. In America this chore falls upon the humble groundhog. In Gibraltar I guess we’d have to rely on a rock ape.