“Black Friday” originally stemmed from a financial crash in 1869, but the modern context emerged in the 1950s or ’60s in Philadelphia. The term was coined by the police to describe chaotic traffic and overcrowded stores the day after Thanksgiving, marking the start of the Christmas shopping season. The dislike for the day wasn’t exclusive to law enforcement; sales personnel often called in sick to extend their holiday weekend, causing widespread absenteeism in stores. Even as early as 1951, there were references to post-Thanksgiving absenteeism dubbed “Friday-after-Thanksgiving-itis.” The term “Black Friday” was hardly endearing and was associated with pandemonium and undesirable working conditions for many.
The day after Thanksgiving became the official start of the Christmas shopping season in the US around 1952. This tradition likely emerged from Santa Claus parades that signaled the arrival of Christmas following Thanksgiving celebrations. Department stores, like Eaton’s in Canada and Macy’s in New York City, sponsored these parades as a way to kick off their holiday advertising.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these parades were a big marketing push for department stores. It became an unwritten rule not to start Christmas advertising before the parade ended, making the day after Thanksgiving the official beginning of the shopping season.
However, in the 1930s, there was a debate over extending the shopping season further. President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving’s date to ensure a longer period for shopping, leading to some controversy, with some still celebrating Thanksgiving on the traditional date and others calling the new date “Franksgiving.”
Fast forward to recent years, online shopping and events like Amazon’s “Prime Day” in July have altered the landscape. Analysts observed a decline in traditional Black Friday shopping, especially in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Deals started appearing earlier in the year, with many retailers promoting sales as early as October. Online sales spiked significantly, while foot traffic in stores dropped considerably.
“Black Friday” initially had negative connotations, associated with chaotic crowds and traffic congestion. Attempts were made in the early 1960s to rebrand it as “Big Friday,” aiming to emphasize family outings and positive shopping experiences. However, this renaming didn’t stick, and eventually, efforts to reframe the day persisted.
Today, retailers have embraced Black Friday as a significant revenue opportunity, leveraging one-day-only promotions and doorbuster deals. It has become synonymous with increased sales and is a vital day for retail businesses, especially with the rise of online sales, hitting a record $7.2 billion in 2019.
Despite its commercial success, Black Friday also reflects the darker side of consumerism, marked by frenzied crowds leading to violence and injuries, even deaths. There’s a suggestion to opt for online shopping for safety and convenience, or if venturing out, to be mindful of one’s budget and show compassion towards others amidst the shopping frenzy. Overall, while retailers portray Black Friday as a cheerful holiday for shopping, its history and reality encompass a mix of both positive sales opportunities and the challenges of excessive consumerism.
In summary, the tradition of the day after Thanksgiving as the start of Christmas shopping stems from Santa parades sponsored by department stores. Over time, changes in shopping habits, online events like “Prime Day,” and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have shifted the dynamics of the holiday shopping season.