Why Is Black Friday Called Black Friday?

How Black Friday Got Its Name

Image shows a timeline. Text reads: "Thanksgiving and black friday history: late 19th century–president lincoln makes the thanksgiving holiday official. 1905–Canadian store hosts the first thanksgiving parade; 1924–Macy's launches its thanksgiving day parade; 1950s–People began calling in sick the day after thanksgiving so they could shop; 1966–The holiday term 'black friday' was first used in print"

Image by Grace Kim © The Balance 2019

The day after Thanksgiving has been the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season since the late 19th century when President Abraham Lincoln designated the Thanksgiving holiday as the last Thursday in November. But the day didn't earn the name "Black Friday" until much later.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

In 1905, Canadian department store Eaton's began the first Thanksgiving Day parade by bringing Santa on a wagon through the streets of downtown Toronto. In 1913, eight live reindeer pulled Santa's "sleigh." By 1916, seven floats representing nursery rhyme characters joined Santa in the parade. 

In 1924, the Eaton's parade inspired Macy's Department Store to launch its famous Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. Macy's wanted to celebrate its success during the Roaring '20s. The parade boosted shopping for the following day. Retailers had a gentleman's agreement to wait until then before advertising holiday sales. 

"Franksgiving"

In 1939, during the Great Depression, Thanksgiving happened to fall during the fifth week of November. Retailers warned they would go bankrupt because the holiday shopping season was too short. They petitioned President Franklin D. Roosevelt to move the Thanksgiving holiday up to the fourth Thursday.

Unfortunately, by this time it was late October. Most people had already made their plans. Some were so upset that they called the holiday "Franksgiving" instead. Only 25 states followed FDR's move. Texas and Colorado celebrated two holidays, which forced some companies to give their employees an extra day off.

In 1941, Congress ended the confusion. It passed a law that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November no matter what.

The Modern Black Friday Arrives

In the 1950s, people began calling in sick the day after Thanksgiving, essentially giving themselves a four-day weekend. Since stores were open, as were most businesses, those playing hooky could also get a head start on their holiday shopping. That’s as long as the boss didn't see them. Rather than try to determine whose pay should be cut, and who was legitimately sick, many businesses started adding that day as another paid holiday. 

In 1966, the Black Friday name became famous in print. That's when a story appeared in an ad in The American Philatelist, a stamp collectors' magazine. The Philadelphia Police Department had used the name to describe the shopping chaos at downtown stores.

The number of shoppers created traffic accidents and sometimes even violence, presaging Black Friday violence to come.

For Decades "Black Friday" Was a Negative

At first, retailers did not appreciate the negative connotation associated with a "Black" day of the week. In fact, "Black Friday" was first associated with Friday, Sept. 24, 1869. Two speculators, Jay Gould and James Fisk, created a boom-and-bust in gold prices. A stock market crash followed as prices fell 20%. The disruption in gold prices sent commodity prices plummeting 50%. Corruption in Tammany Hall allowed Gould and Fisk to escape without punishment.

Another dark day, Black Thursday, occurred on Oct. 24, 1929. It was the day that signaled the start of the Great Depression. It was followed the next week by Black Tuesday. On that day, the stock market lost 12% despite attempts by major investors to support stock prices.

Eventually Black Friday Meant "Profit" (and Discounts)

With all that shopping activity, the Friday after Thanksgiving became one of the most profitable days of the year. Because accountants use black to signify profit when recording each day's book entries (and red to indicate a loss), the name took.

So, Black Friday now means profitable Friday to retailing and to the rest of the economy. That's because retail and consumer spending drive almost 70% of U.S. gross domestic product. Retailers adopted the name, but this time to reflect their success. To encourage more people to shop, retailers began to offer deep discounts only available on that day.

Black Friday Violence

Black Friday crowds still give the police headaches. According to data analysis by The Hustle, there have been 11 deaths and more than 100 injuries on Black Friday since 2006. Violence has become so bad The New York Daily News renamed it "Black-Eye Friday."

The worst Black Friday occurred in 2008 when a man was trampled to death at a New York Walmart. Despite being 6 feet, 5 inches tall and 270 pounds, temporary worker Jdimytai Damour died of asphyxiation when crowds stampeded into the store. At least 2,000 people broke down the doors, trapping Damour in a vestibule where he suffocated. Eleven other shoppers were also injured, including a pregnant woman. These incidents give police the right to call Black Friday by a negative name.

Key Takeaways

  • Retailers want to make Black Friday a positive event. But some shoppers, intent on getting good deals, have turned it into Black-Eye Friday.
  • In recent years, the best Black Friday deals are not on Black Friday. Many retailers offer their best deals earlier.
  • With the popularity of online shopping, Cyber Monday has begun to offer great deals.
  • Many people also wait until Green Monday in mid-December to take advantage of last-minute bargains.

Article Sources

  1. Abraham Lincoln Online. "Proclamation of Thanksgiving." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.

  2. The University of Toronto. "The Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade and the Making of a Metropolitan Spectacle, 1905–1982." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.

  3. Library of Congress. "When Is Thanksgiving Again? Depends on the Year ... And Who Was President." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.

  4. History.com. "A Visual History of Black Friday: From Financial Crash to Shopping Mania." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.

  5. Listserv.Linguistlist.org. "The American Philatelist: Philadelphia's 'Black Friday'." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.

  6. History.com. "The 'Black Friday' Gold Scandal." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.

  7. Goldman Sachs. "The New York Stock Market Crash of 1929 Preludes the Great Depression." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.

  8. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "Personal Consumption Expenditures/Gross Domestic Product." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.

  9. The Hustle. "The Tragic Data Behind Black Friday Deaths." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.

  10. The New York Daily News. "The Worst Black Friday Brawls in History." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.

  11. Forest Hills/Rego Park Times. "Queens Man Killed in Black Friday Stampede." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.