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Where Did Black Friday Come From?

How the biggest holiday shopping day has changed through the years.

Nov 22, 2019

Half-price TV’s!  Amazing doorbusters!  The day after Thanksgiving, people run to stores everywhere, and the Black Friday shopping frenzy begins.  But unless you get there at midnight, that deeply-discounted, must-have gift will be gone!  How did Black Friday catch on?  Was it always this crazy?  Let’s look at how it all started.

Many who don't have to go to school or work on Black Friday hit the stores and malls.Many who don't have to go to school or work on Black Friday hit the stores and malls.

What is it?

Black Friday first became the busiest shopping day of the year in 2005.  It is always on the 4th Friday of every November, the Day after the American Thanksgiving.  This first day of the Christmas shopping season has been around for a long time, but it wasn’t always called “Black Friday.”  It’s not a national holiday, but it kind of feels like one.  Schools are closed and many non-retail workers have the day off, making it a four-day weekend.  Stores use this to their advantage, drawing people out of their homes after their Thanksgiving feast with spectacular sales that bargain hunters can’t resist.  You may have seen news reports of shoppers mobbing stores, fighting each other, and being trampled in stampedes to buy the hard-to-find, trendy item of the moment.  Shoppers even camp out in front of stores over Thanksgiving to make sure they’re at the front of the line when stores open their doors. 

Shoppers wait in line as early as Thanksgiving Day to get first dibs on doorbusters.Shoppers wait in line as early as Thanksgiving Day to get first dibs on doorbusters.
 

Where did the term “Black Friday” come from? 

The word “black” has been used for hundreds of years to describe days when bad things happened.  Black Friday has been used to describe other events in the past.  The most important American event was the Panic of 1869.  This scandal resulted in gold prices falling, causing a panic in the financial industry.  The earliest use of Black Friday to describe the day after Thanksgiving happened in 1951 when workers used to call in sick to work in order to have a four-day weekend.  Police officers also began using it to describe the crazy traffic and crowds caused by Christmas shoppers on this day.

Black Friday was also used to describe an American financial scandal in 1869.Black Friday was also used to describe an American financial scandal in 1869.
 

How did it catch on?

After that, it took a while for Black Friday to officially become the Christmas shopping kick-off day.  The idea spread slowly, beginning in the city of Philadelphia in the 1970’s, and by the 1980’s most of America knew about it.  In the early 1980’s, stores thought ”Black Friday” sounded too negative, and tried to change its meaning to sound more positive.  Because it’s the biggest shopping day of the year, they claimed that its meaning came from the fact that on that day, they went out of the “red” and into the “black” financially, meaning that they went from losing money all year to gaining a profit beginning on that day.  People may believe that’s the actual origin of the name, but it’s not.

Stores first tried to change Black Friday to Big Friday to make it sound more positive, but it didn't catch on.Stores first tried to change Black Friday to Big Friday to make it sound more positive, but it didn't catch on.
 

What is "Christmas Creep"?

Stores used to wait until after Santa's arrival at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade to advertise for Christmas, but not anymore.Stores used to wait until after Santa's arrival at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade to advertise for Christmas, but not anymore.
 

Stores used to wait until after the Thanksgiving parade, when everyone got their first glimpse of Santa, before advertising for Christmas.  That’s how the day after Thanksgiving officially became the first shopping day of the holiday season.  Now, stores do things quite differently: 

  • For many years, major department stores opened at 6:00 a.m.  Beginning in the late 2000’s, they started opening earlier and earlier, creeping to 5:00 and 4:00 a.m. 
  • In 2010, Toys R Us opened at 10:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. 
  • In 2011, major stores like Target, Macys, Kohls, and Best Buy opened at midnight for the first time.  Walmart and some other stores took it a step even farther when they announced they would open at 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. 
  • In 2014, stores like JC Penny, Walmart, Target, Best Buy and many others began opening at 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.  This caused some workers at some of these stores to walk out of their jobs in protest to working on Thanksgiving. 
  • Since then, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have passed laws against forcing employees at supermarkets and big box stores to work on Thanksgiving Day.
    Black Friday sales have gone down in recent years, possibly because of "Christmas Creep."Black Friday sales have gone down in recent years, possibly because of "Christmas Creep."
     

In 2014, people began spending less money on Black Friday.  Christmas Creep could be a reason for this.  Stores have spread their sales out from one day to include Thanksgiving Day and many days after Black Friday, so Black Friday doesn’t hold as much meaning for shoppers anymore.  Another reason could be the rising popularity of online shopping.  Bargain shopping from home can be a more convenient alternative for people who don’t want to deal with traffic or long lines.

 

Cyber Monday, Cyber Week and Small-Business Saturday

Beginning in 2014, Cyber Monday became the biggest shopping day of the year instead of Black Friday.Beginning in 2014, Cyber Monday became the biggest shopping day of the year instead of Black Friday.
 

Amazon’s popularity has exploded, and it has also added to the rise in online shopping.  Cyber Monday began around 2003 when retailers noticed that many people were shopping online the Monday following Thanksgiving. 

  • In 2014, Cyber Monday became the biggest shopping day of the year.
  • This expanded into “Cyber Week” as retailers realized that extending their online sales into the whole following week benefited them.
  • Small-Business Saturday began in 2010 as an offshoot of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  The day after Black Friday, people are encouraged to buy from their locally owned small shops to help them compete with big-box and online stores. 
    Small-Business Saturday encourages shoppers not to forget their small, locally owned businesses when holiday shopping.Small-Business Saturday encourages shoppers not to forget their small, locally owned businesses when holiday shopping.

Some people have strong opinions about whether Black Friday sales should begin on Thanksgiving, or whether they should wait to open until after the holiday.  What do you think?  Do you like to shop on Thanksgiving and Black Friday?  Or are Small-Business Saturday or Cyber Monday more your thing?  Tell Kidzworld below!