The Truth Behind Black Friday


According to Wikipedia[i]: Black Friday is a shopping day for a combination of reasons. As the first day after the last major holiday before Christmas, it marks the unofficial beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Additionally, many employers give their employees the day off as part of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. It is observed by the US, Canada, the UK, and more recently Ireland.

However, Black Friday could become a thing of the past as a lot of stores are spreading out their promos over the entire months of November and December (known as Christmas Creep – see previous post) rather than concentrating on one shopping day or weekend.

What is the history of Black Friday?[ii] There are many theories.

The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied to the crash of the US gold market on September 24, 1869. Two ruthless Wall Street financiers worked together to buy up as much of the nation’s gold as they could, hoping to drive up the price and sell it for astonishing profits. Their plan backfired and on that Friday in September, the plan finally unraveled which sent the stock market into a free-fall bankrupting affecting everyone from Wall Street tycoons to farmers.

The most common story links the Black Friday tradition to retailers. Allegedly, after an entire year of operating at a loss (“in the red”), stores were expecting to actually make a profit (going “into the black”) on the day after Thanksgiving because holiday shoppers blew so much money on discounted merchandise. This version is the officially sanctioned … but INACCURATE … story behind the tradition.

Another theory has surfaced during recent years by that gives a dark twist to the tradition, claiming that in the 1800’s, southern plantation owners could buy slaves at a discount on the day after Thanksgiving. Though this version of Black Friday’s roots has understandably led some to call for a boycott of the retail holiday, it has no basis in fact.

The true story isn’t as colorful as retailers would like you to believe. Back in the ‘50’s, police in the city of Philadelphia used the term to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving when THRONGS of suburban shoppers and tourists flooded the city in advance of the big Army-Navy football game that was held on that Saturday every year. Not only would Philly cops not be able to take the day off, they had to work extra long shifts to deal with the crowds and traffic. Shoplifters also took advantage of the chaos to make off with merchandise, adding to the law enforcement headache. By 1961 “Black Friday” had caught on in Philadelphia to the extent the city’s retailers and boosters tried unsuccessfully to change it to “BIG Friday” to remove the negative connotations. The term didn’t spread to the rest of the country until much later, and as recently as 1985, it wasn’t a term used nationwide. Sometime in the late ‘80’s, retailers found a way to reinvent Black Friday and turn it into something that reflected positivity rather than negatively on them and their customers. The result was the “red to black” concept and the notion that the day after Thanksgiving marked the day retailers finally turned a profit. (In reality, stores traditionally see bigger sales on the Saturday before Christmas.) The Black Friday story stuck and pretty soon the term’s darker roots in Philadelphia were largely forgotten. Since then, the one-day sales bonanza has morphed into a four-day event and spawned other “retail holidays” such as Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

Unfortunately stores have been opening earlier and earlier on that Friday and now the most dedicated shoppers can head out right after their Thanksgiving meal (again, see Christmas Creep). According to a pre-holiday survey by the National Retail Federation, an estimated 135.8 million Americans definitely plan to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend (58.7% of those surveyed); even more (183.8 million – 79.6%) said they would or might take advantage of the online deals offered on Cyber Monday.

What are your plans? Me? I’m home until Monday morning … I mean IN my home!! The rest of you …





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