The ultimate day of holiday shopping for many Americans, Black Friday usually involves huge crowds, long lines, and chaotic malls. Dedicated shoppers queue up in droves for deep discounts on the latest electronics and must-have holiday gifts. Falling just one day after America’s “other” November holiday, Thanksgiving, Black Friday involves little in the way of good food and family tradition. So why is Black Friday always the day after Thanksgiving? How did Black Friday get its name? What are the origins of this day of holiday madness? How might changing shopping habits affect the classic shopping holiday?
The notion of the Friday after Thanksgiving as a shopping day for Americans is rooted in the rise of Thanksgiving Day parades in large cities. Usually, these parades, such as the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, were sponsored and organized by large department stores. Cities like New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Chicago all hosted parades on Thanksgiving. Still televised throughout the United States, the Macy’s Parade debuted in 1924, making it the second major Thanksgiving Day parade after Gimbel’s Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day parade which began in 1920.
As the tradition of these parades grew, store sponsors began to see the opportunity to advertise their store’s offerings through the parade. Recognizing both the importance of Thanksgiving for many Americans and the fact that many workers also had the following day off, store and parade leaders encouraged prospective shoppers to come to their stores the following day: Friday.
While the origins of the “Friday” portion of Black Friday may be clear, the reason for the name “Black Friday” remains an issue of serious debate.
According to some, Black Friday earned its name from the laments of shopkeepers, factory owners, and business people. Employees so frequently took the Friday after Thanksgiving off that business owners came to see the day as a waste, frequently closing for the day.
Another theory for the color connection to Friday is also found in the business world. Some claim that for the large department stores like Macy’s that frequently held Thanksgiving Parades, the day after Thanksgiving was the only day during which they operated in “the Black” or made a profit. This theory holds that some stores made most, if not all, of their profits on this singular day of shopping activity, making hosting a parade an even more attractive business venture.
Perhaps the most plausible and relevant theory regarding “Black” Friday can be found in the records of the Philadelphia City Police Department. Dreading the traffic accidents, pedestrian crowding, and general chaos that accompanied the day after Thanksgiving, members of the Philadelphia Force began referring to the day as a “Black” day. This nickname was soon reported in Philadelphia newspapers and its usage quickly spread, eventually evolving into the popular term “Black Friday.”
Black Friday Around the World
While Thanksgiving may be a mostly American holiday, business owners across the world have seized on the idea of encouraging early holiday shopping.
In Europe, Canada, and Mexico “Black Friday” is beginning to catch on, with stores offering deep discounts and incentives to drive foot traffic.
Though falling on the day after Christmas, the “Boxing Day” tradition found in Canada and the United Kingdom shares some similarities with the American “Black Friday.” Thought of as a day of gift-giving, stores offer similar discounts and special events that result in equally similar congestion and shopping chaos.
The Future of Black Friday
With the immense popularity of online shopping through large retailers like Amazon, venturing to physical stores amid the chaos of Black Friday may seem less than appealing to some shoppers. Recognizing this trend, retailers have begun promoting the following Monday after Black Friday as “Cyber Monday.” Looking to increase profits, large chain stores have also experimented with pre-Black Friday sales, beginning the wild rush of shopping on Thanksgiving Day.
While the chaos and crowds of Black Friday may be waning with the rise of online retail, the day still firmly holds a place in the American holiday season.