Though hardly an authority on any religion of any stripe, I do have a few ideas about the connection between the birth of Christ and Black Friday.
Jesus, rest his soul, was a man who found religion a tad repugnant and would probably have passed on the idea of a religious movement, replete with the traditional tyranny and wars, that used his surname. He would probably have guessed that his teachings would be twisted around by some to fit their own agenda.
As the bumper sticker informs us, Jesus was a Jewish carpenter, which was a tough business in those days before power tools and multiple listings. He also had a decidedly Puerto Rican name, which seems a bit suspect. The religion he found a tad repugnant was his own. As a follower of that ancient and somewhat archaic faith myself, I can understand much of his displeasure—especially with all the rules in Leviticus which includes a ban on bacon.
But all of that is purely from a theological sense.
He, of course, didn’t have access to Woody Allen movies, the Catskills, Philip Roth novels, or the thousands of Jewish comedians who have woven a rich tapestry of the secular Jewish life to tell head-scratching goyim. He hadn’t seen Fiddler On the Roof or heard Barbra Streisand sing. He, God bless him, did not know the pleasures of pastrami-on-rye, bagels with a schmear, or chicken soup with matzoh balls because he died before the Steiner family had opened a branch of the Carnegie Deli at the Ben Gurion Airport.
Secularly speaking, he was barely a Jew.
We’re fast-approaching the day that about 33 percent of the world’s population celebrates the birth of Christ. There is also significant number of non-believers who celebrate Christmas because they think having a dead tree in the living room is festive. Statistically, non-believers spend more money on consumer electronics during the holiday shopping season than do believers. Actually, that’s just my guess.
My knowledge of the particulars of Christianity is limited to information I’ve received from several Episcopal priests (and one Catholic Monsignor) I’ve known in the course of my life. They were all scotch drinkers which, along with the little white collars and erudition, makes them inordinately trustworthy.
But my truest expertise comes from my having been a drummer in the musical, Godspell, which was a rock ‘n’ roll version of the Gospel of Saint Matthew. By that same reckoning, I can answer most of your questions about the outlaw James Gang from my tenure playing drums in the first country & western musical, Jesse James, which ran for what seemed an eternity in an off-off-Broadway theater on 4th and Bowery. Prior to that, I learned all about the pre-War Berlin theater scene when I played Cabaret in summer stock.
And while we’re on the subject of amusement and knowledge being interchangeable, you can learn an awful lot about insects from watching the documentary-like story of apocalyptic prophecy in The Hellstrom Chronicle.
The Book of Matthew contains more than the simple beauty and wisdom expressed in the Beatitudes; it also tells of the three Magi—aka the Three Kings or the Three Wise Men—who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child.
There is some controversy and a lot of confusion about this story that appears only in Matthew.
First of all, is Magi pronounced with a soft or hard “g”? What is a baby supposed to do with those gifts? And there might have been up to twelve Wise Men in the collective Magi. I’ve done considerable research on this subject and have come to believe the theory that there were actually four Kings: Balthasar, the King of Arabia; Melchior, the King of Persia; Gaspar, the King of India; and, Sherwin, the King of Retail, whose gift to the Baby Jesus was a dreidel from Dreidels “R” Us, his flagship toy store in nearby Lod, a town whose Aramaic name translates to “go away.”
Sherwin’s retail empire included a jewelry store that sold gold, frankincense and myrrh, as well as hand-drawn postcards of King Solomon’s temple; a textile outlet that made and sold yarmulkes, prayer shawls and hair shirts; a traveling caravan that sold wooden mallets (it later became Snap-On Tools); and, three vegan falafel stands that, according to Yelp, served the best baba ghanoush in the Middle East.
He also owned an inn that had never had a vacancy, due mostly to the French toast with imported yak butter they served at breakfast.
The advent of the internet was nothing Sherwin could have foreseen, and it hurt his businesses; except for the falafel stands which, with the menu addition of meatless shawarma, have proven themselves as recession-proof.
Desperate, Sherwin decided that to honor the newly born King of Kings he would encourage people to buy stuff to give to each other. To accomplish his mission, he hired a Mad Ave team of PR and marketing specialists, and thousands of people to create and build all this new stuff that would be of little use or value but could be sold for a lot of money.
Given the limited skills of his employees—the only jobs they had held were in construction, textiles and hospitality—most of the new products were made of wood, wool or garbanzo beans. Dreidels “R” Us expanded its toy line to include Pegos, little blocks of wood that snapped together to make stuff that would help kids forget that they had no video games. Since nobody wore shoes in those days, Pegos caused a lot of foot injuries.
His textile firm, Schmatta, introduced the cardigan sweater. Sherwin also started a foot ware outlet, Rubber Soles, that made sandals from garbanzo beans.
And then one fateful day—a Thursday actually, though nobody knew that since Pope Gregory had yet to be born—everybody decided to be thankful for what they already had and call it good. Except for the falafel stands, Sherwin’s businesses tanked. Bankruptcy attorneys started flocking to his side. Creditors refused payment in Pegos; for good reason, kids had lost interest in dreidels. Anybody who prayed already had a shawl.
After waiting for what might have been a year—it was anybody’s guess—the whole thankful schtick came up again. A little light bulb went off in Sherwin’s head, which was a deeply disturbing vision since Edison had yet to be born, and he envisioned a new store he called Lot O’ Crap, where he could dump all of his inventory at half-price after first doubling the price.
“Brilliant!” he exclaimed. His bean counters cheered, “Ole! Ole!”
People bought into it, this new event he named שוואַרץ פרייַטיק, and they started camping in front of Sherwin’s store to be at the front of the line to buy as much crap as they could. People were hurt, run over by chariots in the crowded parking lots, or stomped to death by fellow shoppers eager to get their hands on Insta Cookers, flat-screen TVs and World Cup memorabilia.
And on that first Black Friday, Sherwin took his rightful place as King of Retail.
Photo illustration by Courtney A. Liska
1 16 oz. can of garbanzo beans
1 large onion (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (chopped)
3 tablespoons fresh parsley (chopped)
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper (to taste)
Safflower oil for frying
Drain garbanzo beans, place in a pan with water and bring to a boil.
Allow to boil for 5 minutes, then let simmer for an hour.
Drain and cool.
Combine beans, garlic, onion, coriander, cumin, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Add flour.
Mash mixture into a thick paste.
Form into small balls, about the size of a ping pong ball. Slightly flatten into thick patties.
Fry in 2 inches of oil at 350 F until golden brown (5 to 7 minutes).