There are very few reasons to get out of bed at 3:30 on the morning after Thanksgiving, and a snow globe—even if it’s free and even if it does depict a charming winter scene—is not one of them.

Nonetheless, the promise of 2,000 free snow globes managed to lure herds of fervent shoppers to the 4 a.m. opening of Missoula’s JC Penney’s store on Friday, Nov. 24, casually known as Black Friday but more accurately identified as “The Day of the Undead Shopper.” By 5 a.m., the 2,000 snow-globes were gone, a breathless, bustling clerk there told the Independent as she eyed the line steadily building by her register. Other clerks looked just as dazed, and used words like “scary” and “crazy” and “bedlam” to describe their day.

Think 4 a.m. sounds bad? Then you probably weren’t at Best Buy, where store manager Bob Bridges says people began lining up at noon on Thanksgiving Day in anticipation of the next day’s 5 a.m. sale. When Bridges showed up to work at 2 a.m., he says, more than 250 people were waiting in the cold, some camped out in tents, eagerly awaiting their cheap televisions and computers.

“It’s a lot of fun,” say Bridges, voicing an opinion that’s harder to believe in than Santa Claus. Unless the 8-degree overnight temperatures encouraged joyful revelry, could the promise of cut-rate televisions really have been that enticing?

Apparently so. But the customers seen on a Black Friday jaunt around town looked less excited than exhausted. It was particularly difficult to make eye contact with local shoppers, mostly women, who obsessively scanned the sale signs while sorting through endless racks. Even the patiently waiting men, who looked marooned (though not malnourished) as they sat in improvised harbors amid the sea of goods, stared blankly into space.

And when we heard the Christmas music droning throughout Southgate Mall and saw Santa Claus sitting alone on his great throne—the kids nearby were already loaded down with shopping bags and hardly glanced at the old man—we couldn’t help but notice that the familiar rite heralding the arrival of the “giving season” bears little relation to saints, angels or inspiration.
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