Survey says? (The Black Friday edition)


Tinsel opens and (nearly) ends with Black Friday, an American cultural event about which I am ambivalent. My opinion has changed since I began work on the book. Obviously people aren’t out there doorbusting for bargains alone. They’re out there to participate in something that feels large. They are grasping at their own sense of tradition and community — in a box-store realm that often seems to run short of things like cultural roots, authenticity. As I write in the book, Black Friday is like our running of the Pamplona bulls. It lacks the quaintness and Hemingway-esque machismo of the Spanish festival, but for the Black Friday crazies, it has that same instant of thrill and melee. (And if you know anything about the history of Christmas — which has its origins as a solstice bacchanal, with wild partying in the public streets — then maybe Black Friday resembles the real spirit of Christmas more than a church service?) That Black Friday is entirely the invention of the retail industry is both disturbing and pointless. I think it’s also a little bit Woodstock. Remember this about Woodstock: people didn’t know they were going to a monumental cultural event. They just wanted to be part of the crowd.

For all the economic analysis and moral tut-tutting that accompanies Black Friday, I think once you’re out there in it, you realize that it’s about something having to do with the human heart. Connection, competition, love, insanity, activity, sport — those things.

And what better day to share with you some of the results (so far) of my Christmas Shopping Survey? The survey has been up since the midsummer day that my site went live. Since then, about 1,200 visitors have taken it. It asks about Christmas spending and shopping but also a lot of emotional questions about Christmas, such as feelings about giving/receiving, belief in Santa, TV specials, seasonal ennui, etc. — some of which, the shopping stuff, I’ll share today, and some of which I’ll save for later.

The results are by no means scientific. There’s no way to keep people from taking the survey more than once, and because it’s anonymous I have no data on where the respondents are from or information like age, gender, income, religious belief, etc.

Nevertheless, as Wee-Wee McCall might say: I’m intrigued.

This year, surveys of consumer/citizens found that people are going to keep their spending the same or a little less than last year. Very generally speaking, Americans spend around $850-$900 on Christmas presents. In question number 1, I asked people if that number seemed about right.

47 percent said yes, that seems right.

29 percent said they spend way LESS than that.

14 percent said they spend MORE. (9 percent claimed to do no Christmas spending at all. Believe that!)

So I asked people what they generally spend on the holiday booty, and I asked people to consider not just the presents they buy for spouses, partners, children and extended family, but all the other presents too (for friends, co-workers, employees, etc.)

51 percent said they spend between $500 and $1,000.

32 percent said they spend under $500

12 percent spend between $1,000 and $2,000

And 5 percent said they spend more than $2,000 but not more than $5,000. (One percent said they spend more than $10,000! Oh, Michael — you shouldn’t have!)

I’m also curious about people’s feelings toward shopping itself — going to the mall, etc. I asked: Which statement best describes your attitude toward Christmas shopping?

37 percent took the easiest (and I guess most accurate) answer: I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it — I get some good feelings out of it, but I also myself questioning why it has to be done.

19 percent said: It feels me with existential dread.

But another 19 percent seemed unfazed: I’ve got it down to a science so that it doesn’t irritate me. I’m very efficient.

9 percent said they LOVE it, all of it — the malls, the crowds, the sounds, the chaos. (I almost picked this answer too.)

8 percent said they are so good at it, so efficient, that they are done way before the holiday season crowds.

8 percent said they get a little bit of the existential dread while in the parking lot, but once they’re actually inside the mall, they’re good to go. (That’s how I feel!)

I asked people how much they spend on their children at Christmastime. For whatever reason, 44 percent of my respondents do not have children. Maybe that’s because (ahem) my book appeals to smarty urbanized hipsters who are too young and cool to have succumbed to the reproductive imperative. Haha! But, of the parents who’ve taken the survey…

26 percent say they spend between $100 and $300 per kid.

8 percent said they spend between $300 and $700 per kid.

Another 8 percent said they don’t set a limit, because the kids ask for different things from year to year. Some of these may have also agreed with the idea that it’s Christmas, fer cryin’ out loud, and the joy on their kids’ faces didn’t need to stay within budget.

One percent said they spend more than $700 on their kids. Lucky ducks.

There’s more results to come! Before Christmas, I’ll share how people feel about the gifts they give and receive, and also the results about family gift-giving, gift cards, holiday TV specials, and the aftermath of Christmas. If you haven’t taken the survey yet, please do!

Have a safe but still totally insane Black Friday…


  1. Kristi Stevens on November 26, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Oh.My.Gawd… Hank, I’m having such a hard time with Tinsel.
    For years I’ve been telling myself (much like Bridgette) that I am
    not like “the rest of these women”. And then here you go, posting
    results from a survey that proves exactly the opposite. I’ve been
    so smug telling myself I don’t spoil my children like the rest of
    Frisco and then I read this and see that my children are spoiled
    lucky little ducks afterall. I had not expected Tinsel to evoke
    such grief in me, but that is exactly what it has done. I’m almost
    ready to schedule my appointment for my Frankenboobs and just go
    ahead and surrender to the inevitable.


  2. Norma on November 27, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    My plan to participate in “Buy Nothing Day” was foiled by modest expenditures for bananas and postage, the latter to mail a copy of “Tinsel” to my sister!

  3. Derba on November 27, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Wee-Wee shout out!

  4. jody wissing on November 28, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Well said Hank! I guess I don’t belong in Frisco. There’s not a deal good enough to make me participate in the insanity of black friday. There was, however, for about one second that I considered it when I heard a Lowe’s commercial for a new cordless drill. Maybe I had a tinselectomy before this Christmas.

    Did you take that photo? I might get Christmas, but I don’t at all understand black friday.

    Love your blog. 🙂

  5. Ann S. on November 29, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    Our pastor spoke about your book today in our church service (and I see Jody has already posted a comment on your site here!) I am interested to read your book but I totally FORGOT to get one on our way out today — ran into a friend from 10 years ago … love it when that happens. This afternoon we rummaged through the house to find things that we don’t even use to donate to places like shelters and schools in low income areas. We have no plans to REPLACE these items either!

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