Updated: Dec 22, 2022
America may have given retailers a sales event prior to the Christmas rush, but the REAL Black Friday comes just before Christmas, when the Brits hit the town to celebrate the start of the "festive season" in what is seen as a shameful orgy of drunken madness.
Black Friday has become a commercial phenomenon in recent years. Like burgers bigger than your head, gas guzzling super cars, skyscrapers and TV series that never end, the American penchant for 'in your face' excess found it's spiritual home next to Christmas, the ‘season’ of excess.
First we saw the videos, rows of tents camped outside superstores, eager consumers waiting in line, rubbing their hands together to protect against the cold or in anticipation of the glorious purchasing that awaits them beyond the barred doors and rows of security staff. The key goes in, the doors swing open and the crowd surges forward, people fall and disappear forever, a man grabs a TV in a consumer fervour, but there is a pensioner attached to the other end, violence erupts.
The Brits bloody invented it, alright?
The REAL Black Friday, also known as Builder's Friday, Black Eye Friday, Frantic Friday or more recently Mad Friday (to distinguish it from the American sales event) takes place at the end of the last full working week before Christmas day. It is absolutely about excess, but not consumer goods, quite simply, that cherished British pastime, drinking, and lots of it.
Black Friday became a hushed whisper, a cautionary tale, a foreboding moniker for the most violent day in the calendar amongst bar staff, bouncers and the police and ambulance service. It is the day that most office parties take place, factory workers organise a ‘wee drinky,’ ties are loosened and the gang, the team, the co-workers, put down their staplers, their tools of the trade and differences and head to the pub en-masse.
It has become widely recognised by emergency services and the publican trade as the busiest night of the year by far. Just as the retail sector looks to the Christmas period to make their profit, bars and clubs prepare for this night carefully. For while it brings bumper till revenue, it also brings drink-fueled complications.
Bouncers undergo special training to manage what is essentially a zombie apocalypse. In this profession in particular, it is one of the most dangerous days of your year and career. Dealing with the public in general can be dangerous, but when 100% of the public are intoxicated and discarding their inhibitions like wrapping paper, it becomes a matter of survival.
There is a prevailing sense amongst the public that ‘anything goes’ during this 24 hours as a kind of ‘office purging’ takes place. Drunken propositions are made, faces are slapped, as the booze flows and the voices rise, some in merriment, some in anger, Brits travel back several hundreds of years to their Viking roots, they dance and sing and fondle each other. Brian from accounting feels 12 feet tall, out with his pack, a rival pack of office workers pass and someone spills some beer on his brogues, Black Eye Friday claims another victim.
“Ambulance Trusts around the country plan and set up mobile "drunk tanks" in city centres to help lighten the load on hospitals and police cells” said reporter Nicola Harvey in her article for the Telegraph ‘Mad Friday: How police and hospitals are preparing’ “Some of the higher end mobile units can treat up to 11 people at a time with eight beds, seats with restraint straps and two showers, and can cost up to £500,000.” Yes, restraint straps.
Major cities set up field hospitals in large central squares, to effectively triage legions of drunks. Police make public pleas for revelers to eat before drinking and Office party organisers are also encouraged to include a sit down meal in their plans for the office celebrations.
In a further attempt to prevent outlandish behaviour Greater Manchester Police produced the hashtag #MadMancFriday to shame people with images of their drunken debauchery on social media.
This is a bruise on the international reputation of the British, but, it must be remembered that the vast majority of people enjoy this frenetic unleashing of cheer with no trouble or anything more serious than a sore head the next day. This year should not be as a intense as last year, which was a SUPER Black Friday, as Christmas Day was on the following Monday. This year, most workers will still be returning to their desks on the Monday, which will keep some of the worst excesses in check.
How will you celebrate Black Friday? We encourage responsible drinking and the use of words in resolving conflict. Have a very Merry Christmas, stay safe and be good to one another.
We discuss this horror show and other curious Christmas traditions from around the world in our Dead Air discussion programme here: