I think today might represent the most remarkable cultural difference we’ve experienced so far in our three months of living in Wellington.
What’s so remarkable? That today is completely unremarkable, aside from the stunning weather.
Of course, living in the states, this day is Black Friday – a day (and term) invented in Philadelphia. A day that’s ostensibly about the convenience of so many people having off (unless they work retail), but has metastasized into 30hrs of capitalist frenzy to get rock bottom prices on things you may or may not have any practical use for in your life or budget to buy but suddenly must acquire because Christmas or something.
I tended to batten down the hatches on Black Friday and keep them sealed until the entire Christmas shopping season has passed. Why risk going anywhere and getting sucked into the capitalist vortex of deal-seeking shoppers?
Here in New Zealand, Black Friday is just another Friday, owing in part to the fourth Thursday in November simply being the fourth Thursday in November. Today is still Black Friday in the sense that US holidays completely pervade the world calendar thanks to the hegemonic force of their culture.
Shopping on Black Friday is a thing here, but there are few readily visible indications of that. It comes with only a modest sales uptick on the order of 30% over the previous week, which owes at least in part to the fact that the majority people are actually at work here on this utterly normal, beautiful day.
With the lack of a push behind the retail holiday, there’s also a commensurate lack of a sense of the holiday season having suddenly begun. Christmas decorations haven’t suddenly appeared in every business and on every house’s facade.
There are other, trickle-down effects of not having Thanksgiving and Black Friday to kick off the official holiday season. Here, Christmas retail kicked off on November 1st with relatively little fuss. I would say, “the day after Halloween,” but that’s also not really a thing here. Our nearest neighbor advised us that if EV6 dressed up they would find some candy to give her, but no one else in the neighborhood would have any.
That’s not just our neighborhood. We were out and about for the day and did not witness a single costume and nary a pop-up shop in the preceding weeks. Despite being an ostensible global holiday, Halloween is uncelebrated enough by Kiwis that each year there are Very Serious articles written about Trick-or-Treating and if it should be embraced or rejected.
(From the rejected side of the debate: “it is a repugnant excuse of a holiday, dripping in slimy American commercialisation.”)
(Seriously, I like it here so much.)
Even as someone who doesn’t personally partake in Black Friday or Halloween, their effective cultural absence leads to a queer void in my perception of passing time. Sure, the nationwide NZ Secret Santa began on November 6th, but without the unavoidable drumbeat of those twin poles of autumnal capitalist frenzy I hardly believe the end of the year is approaching – which isn’t aided by the fact that today is the most gorgeous one we’ve seen in three months of living here.
The cumulative effect is that I find that I’m not dreading December here the way I did in the states. Yes, I’m sure people will be busy with holiday plans and parties. Christmas on the beach is a thing; after all, it will be summer here. There’s simply not the sense of stepping out of Thanksgiving to fall into a month-long unrelenting blizzard of blaring holiday music about Santa and snow.
Black Friday might bear all of that weight back in the states, but here it is jut another day.