The Friday after Thanksgiving has been the official start of the Christmas shopping season for decades. It dates at least to the administration of Franklin Roosevelt who notably changed the date of Thanksgiving at the urging of retailers to give them an extra week in the shopping season. Some trace the origin back to the start of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924.
While it’s generally asserted that the day after Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Christmas season is the point at which retailers move from being “in the red” to “in the black.” This is a wonderful explanation and since the press seems to have bought into it pretty widely, is perpetuated every year. Like so many other urban legends, Black Friday doesn’t seem to stand up to close scrutiny. The term actually appears to have originated in Philadelphia where the police took to referring to the day after Thanksgiving as Black Friday because of the traffic headaches and other problems caused by thousands of shoppers crowding industry to stores. It seems we can even pinpoint how and where the term came into the public view. In in the January, 1966 edition of the American Philatelist, Earl Apfelbaum, a dealer in rare stamps placed an ad which read:
“Black Friday” is the name which the Philadelphia Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment to them. “Black Friday” officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing.
Apfelbaum’s ad and the description of the day was actually much more congruent with the general understanding of black days throughout American history. Wall Street had a Black Friday in 1869 and the labor movement had its Black Friday in 1887. We had another Black Friday in September 1984 when currency traders took a bath on the US dollar. All in all, until retail marketing got ahold of it, Black Friday was a day to be feared, not celebrated.
That is no longer the case and in November there is always a great stir as people get ready for the sales that kickoff the Christmas shopping season. There are some residual Black Friday nightmares, of course, particularly if you are a Washington Husky and you are referring to this year’s Apple Cup. There are also other issues. If you are shopper, you may want to make sure your Washington insurance is up-to-date. There are plenty of places to get injured in the shopping crush. For the past several years, Walmart appears to have been particularly dangerous although with the advent of Cyber Monday and the change in shopping hours that has Black Friday occurring on Thursday, some of the pressure seems to have been relieved.
One thing is certain, for retailers Black Friday is a study in green – money green. According to Fox news,” A record 226 million shoppers visited stores and websites during the four-day holiday weekend starting on Thursday, the Thanksgiving Day holiday, up from 212 million last year, according to early estimates by the National Retail Federation released on Sunday. Americans spent more, too: The average holiday shopper spent $398.62 over the weekend, up from $365.34 a year ago.”
Whether this is really a day that pushes retail business into the black is a moot point; for sure it is one big day for US retail sales.