Here’s Why We Call the Day After Thanksgiving “Black Friday”

published Nov 17, 2019
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Black Friday, aka the day after Thanksgiving, has long been the biggest American shopping day. Historically, Black Friday was just that—a Friday—but with the advent of online shopping, many stores (both online and offline) offer sales spanning from the day before Thanksgiving to the Monday after, better known as the increasingly popular Cyber Monday.

While Black Friday isn’t an official U.S. holiday like Thanksgiving, many companies give their employees the day off (assuming, of course, those employees aren’t working the grueling Black Friday sales).

If you’ve ever wondered about the history of Black Friday or how Black Friday got its name, read on.

What are Black Friday sales?

Black Friday is wildly popular for a reason: Because many stores offer huge sales on their products. Some items are so wildly discounted that stores don’t even make a profit; according to the Black Friday website, toys and electronics sell the best, likely because these items usually have the deepest price cuts. But the huge crowds can make up for it; some shoppers are so hungry for Black Friday deals that they camp outside the store on Thanksgiving, after the big meals are over. This year, 61 percent of shoppers reported they’ll be participating in Black Friday, with an average reported budget of $502. 

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When did Black Friday start?

How old Black Friday is depends on how you define “Black Friday.” The first known non-Thanksgiving use of the term “Black Friday” took place in the nineteenth century after two devastating, depression-inducing stock market crashes that occurred on Fridays, one in 1869 and another in 1873. While the American economy suffered the effects of these Black Fridays for decades to come, the term “Black Friday” didn’t show up in a shopping context until the twentieth century.

Thanksgiving became known as the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season in the 1920’s, around the time the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade started. When stores realized they could take advantage of the holiday bustle and attract customers with sales, the Friday after Thanksgiving became a popular time to shop. 

Why is it Called Black Friday?

One popular theory about how Black Friday got its name has to do with the profits from those after-Thanksgiving sales: It’s been said that stores go from being in the “red” to being in the “black” via explosive Black Friday sales, but according to Bloomberg, most retailers are profitable long before November. 

Others think the name Black Friday stems back to worker absences after Thanksgiving in the 1950s. In a November 1951 edition of a newsletter called Factory Management and Maintenance, an editor compared post-Thanksgiving absences with the Bubonic Plague and the day “Black Friday.”

Over the next decade, the nickname caught on with Philadelphia bus drivers, police officers, and store employees, all of whom were reportedly frustrated by the traffic and chaos the day brought. 

Whether you go out and brave the Black Friday sales or stick to online shopping, stay safe and have fun!