Do you celebrate Black Friday by staking your place in line at 4:00 a.m. at the local mall? Is a computer or new television on your gift list this year? If you do, you know it’s the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Since 1952, it’s been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the U.S., and most major retailers open very early and offer promotional sales.
The origin of the term “Black Friday” is murky. The most popular explanation is that the day’s sales are so high, it can singlehandedly push a retailer from being “in the red,” or losing money, into “the black,” or solvency.
Some say the earliest reference to the phrase appears to be in 1981. According to snopes.com, the Philadelphia police had already coined the term “Black Friday.” According to a 1994 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that was written by one of the reporters who claims to have popularized the term, “Black Friday” was actually coined in the 1960s.
Black Friday has long been considered the start of the holiday shopping season, and since Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday, many schools and some businesses would be closed the day after. Stores, however, were not closed, causing a spike in traffic and crowds in Philadelphia’s Center City. Police officers in the city started calling the day Black Friday, as they had to work 12-hour shifts to mitigate the madness. From there, the media got a hold of it, and the name was popularized.
The nickname caught on even after PR firms hired by department stores tried to change the name to “Big Friday” in the 1960s. It didn’t work, and eventually, Black Friday spread across the US, morphing into the monument to holiday shopping we know today.
The term “Black Friday” was originally derisive and is now mainstream. The origins of the term “Black Friday” have become somewhat obscured in the mists of time, however, leading people to invent fanciful explanations for how that phrase became attached to the day after Thanksgiving. Could the phrase once have referred to the tradition of slaveowners or slave traders using that day as an opportunity for selling their wares? “Black Friday” has nothing to do with the selling of slaves, though, and the term didn’t originate until nearly a century after the practice of slavery was abolished in the U.S.
The earliest known use of “Black Friday” in such a context stems from 1951 and referred to the practice of workers calling in sick on the day after Thanksgiving in order to have four consecutive days off (because that day was not yet commonly offered as a paid day off by employers).
Will you be shopping or sleeping in? Are you waiting for Cyber Monday? Or will you spend your hard-earned dollars on Small Business Saturday? Whatever you do, feel free to spend money!