As Thanksgiving and the inevitable Black Friday shopping day nears, I found myself wondering how this shopping frenzy all began. I scoured the internet for as many sources as I could find that would tell me not only when Americans started shopping in masses the day after Thanksgiving, but why. Most importantly, how did that day get the name Black Friday? The answers to these questions are not so cut and dry as one might think.
We begin our journey during the Civil War on October 3rd, 1863. President Abraham Lincoln announces that the United States will officially celebrate Thanksgiving as a national holiday, and that this holiday will be held on the 4th Thursday of November each year. The first Thanksgiving was thus celebrated on November 26, 1863. As Thanksgiving falls on November 26th this year, we will be celebrating 152 years of tradition to the day.
By the early 1920’s, several retailers sponsored parades to celebrate this national holiday. In 1924 Macy’s held their first Thanksgiving Day Parade. At the end of each parade came Santa Claus and officially marked the beginning of the holiday season. It became wide practice that retailers would not advertise Christmas sales until after the conclusion of Thanksgiving. With such a hard fast unwritten rule in place, the day after Thanksgiving quickly became the day to shop for the holidays and be the first to see all the specials.
As time went on, shopping on the day after Thanksgiving increased in popularity. Many businesses treated the day after Thanksgiving as a holiday in itself. Even school was not held on this day. However there were some groups of workers that were forced into working the day after Thanksgiving each year. In as early as 1951, business owners were using the term ‘Black Friday’ to refer to the number of employees to call in sick the day after Thanksgiving.
Philadelphia is more widely credited with boosting the popularity of the phrase during the 1960’s. Things were particularly troublesome the day after Thanksgiving as police were forced into working twelve hour shifts and crowds filled the streets. According to snopes.com, “the term ‘Black Friday’ came out of the old Philadelphia Police Department’s traffic squad. The cops used it to describe the worst traffic jams which annually occurred in Center City on the Friday after Thanksgiving.” During the 1980’s, retailers began using the phrase in association with the big shopping day to signify when their red (negative or loss) accounting book entries turned to black (positive or profits). By the 90’s retailers were using the term in advertising for holiday specials and sales taking place the day after Thanksgiving.
In the early 2000’s retailers began opening their doors earlier and earlier. In 2011, several major retailers announced they would open doors at midnight. The next year, Walmart opened their doors at 8:00 PM Thanksgiving Day. Today stores are opening as early as 5 PM on Thanksgiving Day. With this new trend, I can’t help but wonder how long we will continue to call it Black Friday?
Will you be out shopping on Black Friday or clicking on computer keys enjoying cyber deals from the comfort of your own home? Perhaps you will be boycotting the holiday by remaining firmly on your couch digesting those delicious holiday foods. If you are one of the hard working Americans that will be taking up a post directing traffic or ringing up items, I thank you and wish you a happy day after the day after Thanksgiving.