I knew it was Thanksgiving by the thud the morning paper made on the doormat. It wasn't the pages of news covering the Israeli ceasefire. It was the four pounds of store fliers (I weighed them!) in a printed Black Friday plastic bag, encouraging me to venture out the following day for the bargain of a lifetime .
The "following day", I say, Black Friday - but that's pretty loose. The stores have been opening earlier and earlier as the years have gone on: 6am , 4 am, 2 a.m - many have now settled for midnight , and Sears have settled for 8pm today, that's right, Thanksgiving itself.
Black Friday of course refers to the day that all the stores get into the black for the year. It's the start of the mad shopping sprint to Christmas. It's difficult to believe that Thanksgiving was once celebrated as the holiday free from commercialism. Not so many years ago Black Friday didn't exist.
So what are the bargains in my four pounds of bumf?
From Sears a "doorbuster" 32" HDTV for $97 (save $150); From Verizon a 7" Galaxy tablet for $99.99: or you can buy a Nook E-reader from Target for less than half price, $59 or a Canon L319 digital camera fora half-price $99.99. Most of the deals are one day only, some encompass Saturday. So get out there.
Ignoring their indigestion the great American public rush to respond - and things can get out of hand. Walmart is still fighting a $7000 fine from four years ago for not controlling the crowd when a customer was trampled to death in the rush at one of their stores in New York state. Walmart has spent millions fighting the case; it's an important matter of principle they say.
So leave it to the ever-pragmatic Wall Street Journal to puncture the myth of the super-bargains.
Says the WSJ:"Every Black Friday, retailers lure shoppers in the cold, predawn hours to wait in long lines with the promise of one-day-only deals that can't be beat. And every year, shoppers ask themselves, "Is this really worth it?"
The answer, it turns out, is often no, says the Journal.
The WSJ and price-data firm Decide Inc. analysed some of this year's Black Friday deals - and found that many were available at lower prices at other times of the year — sometimes even at the same retailer.
Decide looked at more than 500 Black Friday doorbusters advertised by stores such as Sears , Target and Best Buy - and found nearly one-third of the products had been sold at lower prices this year.
Sears is advertising a KitchenAid Artisan Series Stand Mixer for $319.99 this Black Friday. Decide found the retailer offered the same mixer for $296 in March.
Home Depot is advertising a General Electric Co. Adora dishwasher for $598 on Black Friday, saving $151. Last month, the retailer was selling that same dishwasher for $538, Decide found.
The 32 gigabyte, fifth-generation Apple iPod Touch that Best Buy is advertising for $294.99 on Black Friday was $10 cheaper last week.
Decide did however, find that many of the bargains appeared to be genuine.Rob Docters, of McKinsey & Co.'s pricing practice, said retailers are likely counting on consumers to assume this week's advertised sales are the best of the year.
"People associate Black Friday with good prices, and that eliminates the need to check price," he said.
Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham takes a cynical view of the whole shebang, describing Black Friday as "that most American of holidays, commemorating the triumph of marketing over reason."