Eye-catching banners on high-traffic websites, marketing campaigns, genuine or illusory discounts, deals that vanish in seconds. Shopping lists, fierce price hunts, early morning alarms. Jumping the gun, millions in sales, ecstatic or dissatisfied customers, delayed deliveries, and blown budgets. In a word: Black Friday.

It’s been fewer than three decades since Romania’s year-end season was a far cry from today’s shopping euphoria and frenzy, simply because there wasn’t much to buy. Food items, in shabby packaging and limited in quantity and variety, left store shelves mostly bare. The two or three oranges, secured after hours in endless lines, became the hallmark of a Christmas that officially never came. For the children of that era—now adults and elders—holiday memories forever carry the scent of orange peel and half-ripe bananas.

Stories of communist years consistently feature Fa soaps (ideal as a small gift), meagre meals, the cold in the homes, and the two hours of TVR broadcasts watched through the static of a black-and-white TV—purchased after months on a long waiting list, unless the buyer had a crucial connection.

Communism is often associated with material deprivation by its critics. Meanwhile, its nostalgics cling to the same material argument, but with a twist: somehow, they managed to procure everything essential on the black market. Once free from the censorship of those red days, Romanian consumers’ pent-up desires sought revenge as the market became flooded with a bewildering array of goods, overwhelming for those who had spent decades choosing between Vafe and Polar ice creams.

The media has highlighted the irony that on Black Friday 2017, Scornicești, the birthplace of Nicolae Ceaușescu, topped the list of localities ordering the most products from Romania’s largest online store, with 186.11 products per 1,000 inhabitants.

This ongoing shopping frenzy has expanded the everyday vocabulary of Romanians (and others) to include terms with a consumerist ring, such as Black Friday.

A seamlessly adapted celebration

Just a decade ago, most Romanians would have shrugged in ignorance if asked about Black Friday, with English speakers likely associating the term with the negative connotation of the colour. Today, however, the discount campaign is eagerly anticipated by many, customers have access to lists of participating stores, and online guides offer best practices to help shoppers manage their budgets effectively for the event.

There are several versions explaining the origin of the term, with two being the most common. In the United States, “Black Friday” marks the start of the Christmas shopping season, occurring the day after Thanksgiving, which Americans celebrate on the last Thursday of November.

Why, then, is it called Black Friday? One explanation suggests that police officers in 1970s Philadelphia coined the term, frustrated by the chaos and traffic congestion caused by the shopping frenzy marking the start of the holiday season.

Another theory is that the term reflects accounting practices of the time: losses in store ledgers were recorded in red ink, while profits were noted in black ink. Black Friday essentially became a holiday for retailers, promising to recover deficits from the rest of the year.

Eventually, Black Friday crossed the borders of the United States, becoming one of the busiest days on the calendar, rivalling the Saturday before Christmas. Not only did it carry its uniquely resonant name to different parts of the world, but it also inspired related shopping events that significantly contribute to annual earnings and for which retailers prepare months in advance. Following Black Friday is Cyber Monday, the first Monday after Black Friday, when online stores offer discounts on internet purchases. Some online retailers in Romania have already embraced this trend.

Next comes Green Monday, the second Monday in December, dedicated to online shopping and named by eBay as the day in the gift-giving season when the company records its highest profits. In the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, the day after Christmas is called Boxing Day, where customers dive into another round of shopping, enticed by heavily discounted prices.

This chain of top sales and special-offer events, according to the most optimistic, benefits everyone, with the majority gaining significantly.

Good news about Black Friday

After years of being unaware of special days like Black Friday, people around the globe now eagerly anticipate them, keeping an eye on store price lists and another on their budget’s flexibility.

For some, occasions like these are the only times of the year when they can purchase an item that has been lingering on their wish list, usually out of reach financially. For others, Black Friday offers the comfort of shopping with the assurance that they are paying a fair price for what they add to their cart.

A positive aspect of this sales campaign is that most stores have moved away from the practice of fake discounts, aware that the negative publicity from such tactics would outweigh any short-term gains. Customers have learned to carefully check and compare price lists to identify instances where a discount is merely a reduction on a price that was inflated just before the sale. They are also vigilant about deals that involve older models still in stock or inferior products made specifically for these sales.

Black Friday is a win for customers who manage to snag the highly sought-after deals—those on popular items with limited stock that will sell out almost immediately. Thus, Emag sold 252 units of iPhone 7 in just 102 seconds, and 500 Microsoft Xbox One consoles were gone in 53 seconds.

Beyond the most attractive deals, which disappear shortly after Black Friday begins, there are numerous advantageous discounts for those with specific items on their wish list—provided they understand that a quality product doesn’t come at a bargain-basement price.

Behind the scenes: the less rosy details

Large discount campaigns don’t spell prosperity for everyone involved. The media has occasionally highlighted that employees of participating companies often don’t benefit from this supposedly win-win relationship between retailer and customer. 

For example, being a courier during the extended Black Friday period is no easy task. A Romanian journalist’s experience sheds light on this, pointing out the chaotic behaviour of customers as a significant stressor. 

Perhaps because Black Friday is a relatively recent adoption in Romania, the media has written less about the pressure felt by employees during this time. In contrast, in America, this topic has garnered much attention, especially due to its association with Thanksgiving.

The stress and physical exertion experienced by an Amazon employee preparing for the year’s biggest sales day are vividly described by Adam Littler, a BBC journalist who worked undercover at Amazon’s Swansea warehouse. In a single night, he could cover 18 km, running as a picker through the vast 800,000 m² warehouse, constantly monitored by a body scanner that flagged any delay in completing tasks. Summarising his experience, Littler noted that an employee is treated as though they are a robot.

The strike initiated by Walmart employees in 15,000 stores just before Black Friday in 2013 revealed grim details about the meagre wages and substandard working conditions imposed by the largest private employer in the U.S.

If anyone is happy about Black Friday, it certainly isn’t the employees of a company that prepares months in advance for record sales. However, some employees acknowledge that the blame shouldn’t rest solely on the employer.

When discounts hijack the holiday

John, who worked for many years as a store manager, shares his experiences on the Facebook page “Say ‘No’ To Shopping on Thanksgiving.” He recounts spending Christmases at work, enduring sympathetic comments like “What a shame you have to work today!” from customers who still had last-minute bargains to hunt.

It’s easy to express your disgust for five minutes over stores making employees work on Thanksgiving evening, says Caleb Greggsen, only to forget everything in the frenzy of shopping that begins the next day.

Thanksgiving, celebrated by Americans on the last Thursday of November, has been a federal holiday since President Lincoln’s time, meant “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”—an antidote to the human tendency to forget the Source of the abundant gifts that can touch even “the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”

While secularism has bitten into the religious aspect of the holiday, consumerism has completed its hollowing out. Isn’t it ironic, asks anthropologist Benjamin Corey, that after pausing for a day to be thankful for what they have, people rush out the next day to get what they think they lack? It’s a strange form of gratitude, marked by its fleeting nature and lack of substance. Those who celebrate the year’s abundance, says Corey, could show their gratitude by spending more on life and less on goods, knowing that each year people die who could be saved by the generosity of those more privileged.

In reality, Black Friday doesn’t just overshadow the meaning of Thanksgiving. The endless array of deals ushers customers into the “spirit” of Christmas at least a month before its calendar date, keeping their interest piqued with ongoing deals.

Although he identifies as a staunch capitalist, blogger Matt Walsh, in an article for the Huffington Post, distinguishes between the “freedom and innovation” of capitalism and the greed of consumerism, rejecting the notion that they are intrinsically connected. The frenzy of consumption has swallowed all the intangible meanings of the holiday season like a black hole, says Walsh, because consumerism, by its very nature, can never be satisfied with just one day. Nor can it accept the idea that something could be more valuable than acquisition, even the sacred.

“Just buy. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have money. Just buy. Never save, never invest, never cut back—just buy. Buy what you don’t need with money you don’t have. Buy when you’re happy. Buy when you’re sad. Buy when you’re hungry. Buy when you want to lose weight. Buy like you breathe, only more frequently.”

Amidst this purchasing whirlwind, Black Friday—and all the fantastic or modest, real or deceptive discounts—does not represent a cause but a symptom of a deeper problem. It signals confusion about what gives life meaning, the belief that everything can wait—family, play, gratitude, simple joys, everything except that ever-elusive “El Dorado”, delivered in instalments with or without interest.


It’s easy to be seduced by the siren call of the material world because it’s tangible, alluring, and so vocal! Yet sometimes, it is the very chase after material things that eclipses their beauty.

Tony Reinke pens an intriguing article on DesiringGod.com titled “The Lie We Keep Buying: Are You Materialistic Enough?” where he argues that consumerist frenzy distances us from things rather than bringing us closer to them. Virtual reality serves as one of the metaphors he uses to capture the dynamics of our relationship with the material world.

After a journey through the magical universe facilitated by virtual reality goggles, Lee Vermeulen, a video game developer, described the difficulty of readjusting to reality. His brain played tricks on him after the digital experience, making him feel the need to touch objects to confirm that the real world was indeed as it seemed.

Designer Tobias van Schneider also observed, after months of immersion in a dynamic virtual reality created with cutting-edge technology, that the experience of returning to reality was bizarre. The mind goes through a few hours of hangover, during which the effect of the virtual world gradually dissipates—a time when driving and navigating crowded places can prove to be unwise decisions.

“But what stays is a strange feeling of sadness and disappointment when participating in the real world, usually on the same day. The sky seems less colorful and it just feels like I’m missing the ‘magic’” says van Schneider, expressing concern that technology might blur the boundaries between the real and the unreal, disrupting the brain’s ability to distinguish between the two.

Consumerism alters our perception of the material world much like a pair of virtual reality glasses, Tony Reinke says. By immersing us in a universe of abundance, bombarded with limitless options and trends, it erases the splendid contours of the material world, wrapping it in the foil of consumable products. Ultimately, it empties the material world of substance, leaving us with feelings of disappointment and frustration—emotions easily exploited by the consumer industry.

The metaphorical glasses provided by materialism make us immune to the brilliance of the created world, blurring its radiance. Beyond the wall of objects we buy, there is an entire world, but our fascination for it diminishes.

“The miser who should spend a laborious life in hoarding and counting the autumn leaves has, I think, yet to be born,” English writer G.K. Chesterton said. In old literature, he still finds traces of a bygone love for things for their own sake. Only children retain remnants of this way of relating to the material world, says Chesterton—when they are captivated by a piece of coal, for instance, not for its value as fuel, but for a “nobler and more abstract” reason: the black mark it leaves.

In a society hungry for objects (and the status they promise), the material world has become less, not more, than its Creator intended.

Perhaps we need to fall in love again with bundles of chicory, the choreography of snowflakes, or the dazzling brilliance of a sunbeam to truly answer Reinke’s question: “Am I a materialist enough to resist materialism?”