By In Stuff

Black Friday

To start, let’s look at the other black days as described by Wikipedia and others:

Black Monday — The October Monday in 1987 when world stock markets crashed.

Black Tuesday — The 1929 Tuesday when Wall Street crashed and the Depression began.

Black Wednesday — In Britain, it was the day in 1992 when the government withdrew the pound sterling causing huge trading losses. … In America, it apparently refers to a day in 1954 when bad weather backed up air travel and caused extreme angst among air traffic controllers.

Black Thursday — There have been many dreadful things that have happened on Black Thursdays around the world including bushfires in Australia, the Russian credit market crashing, a massacre in the Philippines and a day American gold medal favorites Ray Norton and John Thomas disappointed at the 1960 Rome Olympics. In retrospect, the last of these doesn’t seem quite as bad as the others.

Black Friday — SHOPPING!

Black Saturday — Let’s see — a bunch of fires at Yellowstone, massacres in Beirut, riots in Cairo, a dark day in Scotland that many saw as a sign from God that the world was coming to an end (there were numerous suicides).

Black Sunday — More fires, the day Dale Earnhart died, a novel and movie about an attempt to blow up the Super Bowl.

So, it seems like one of these is not quite like the others.

It always struck me that, underneath it all, Black Friday was a negative term. Black Friday was certainly a negative term before the shopping thing, back when it referred to the assassination of President Kennedy or the day windstorms killed almost 200 fishermen off the Scottish coast. Even when shopping took over the name, I still thought we were supposed to feel contempt for Black Friday, not unlike Tax Day.

Sure, I know, Black Friday has been promoted by stores for decades; there have been advertising circulars pushing Black Friday sales since the 1980s. But I always thought there was supposed to be some kind of irony about the whole thing. I always thought that everyone conceded that Black Friday was this dreadful, overbearing, frustrating, traffic-laden, overcrowded, can’t-find-parking, everyone-is-bumping-into-you, people-are-rude, kids-are-screaming thing. People endured Black Friday because it was a relatively convenient day to shop and nothing was on TV.

But it seems to me that in the last couple of years — especially this year — Black Friday has shifted somewhat. Maybe this happened 10 years ago, and I just ignored it. But it’s like Black Friday is now a happy term, a celebration, a joyous occasion.. It’s like Black Friday is its own holiday … one that is clearly bigger and more exciting than Thanksgiving. Even the term Black Friday is said to mean something different than I always thought. It’s now supposed to be the day that stores go out of the red and into the black. Or something.

The original term Black Friday — according to Visual Thesaurus and this excellent piece at Mother Jones and various other Internet hotspots — had nothing to do with that. The term originated in Philadelphia in the 1950s and it meant exactly what you think it would mean. You had Thanksgiving on Thursday, of course, and the Army-Navy Game two days later on Saturday. The Friday in between was unofficially tagged “Black Friday” by police and other officials because of the insane traffic as people went mega-shopping. This was definitively a negative term, so negative that according to a 1961 Public Relations News newsletter, there were business efforts to have people call it “Big Friday” instead. Ah, yes, Big Friday. That’s going to take off.

OK, no, it didn’t take off, but Black Friday did. And it had to spread. Philadelphia wasn’t the only place where people shopped a lot on the day after Thanksgiving. There’s a certain irony here — people could shop on Black Friday because they got the day off. Then, because so many people shopped, everything started opening up earlier, meaning fewer people got days off. And then, because places opened earlier, more people shopped, meaning stores opened earlier and more people worked, meaning more people shopped, meaning more people needed to work.

Anyway, it was the resulting traffic, noise, rudeness and so on that inspired Black Friday. It wasn’t until the 1980s that anyone said the “Black” in “Black Friday” referred to financials — give the marketing person who came up with that little twist a big raise. Even so, even after the “Businesses going into the black” thing, I always got the impression that people used Black Friday pejoratively as in, “Oh, man, I have to go shopping on Black Friday” or “I wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near a mall on Black Friday” and so on.

But, more and more, stores started to embrace the whole Black Friday thing. And people embraced it more. And stores embraced it even more. Commercials have long mentioned Black Friday as a way to talk about incredible once-a-year sales. But I’m not sure when they started celebrating it. I’m not sure when people started saying Black Friday the same way they say “Valentine’s Day” or “Fourth of July.” I’m not sure about the history of opening early on Black Friday, but I know they started opening earlier, then earlier still, then they were opened at the stroke of midnight, and then people lined up for a half mile like Black Friday at K-Mart was a hot movie premier.

This year, as you know, Black Friday actually begins on Thursday. Again, it’s part of a long process, but it feels like there has been a leap taken. These commercials showing people waking up in the middle of the night for Black Friday are behind the times. I was in Best Buy the other day and the young woman behind the counter asked if I would be shopping on Black Friday. I told her there wasn’t even the slightest chance. She shrugged and said, “Well, in case you change your mind, on Black Friday this year we open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.” She was obviously obligated to tell me this, and she said it unhappily. I know one person who is working on Thanksgiving.

She clearly used the word “Black Friday” the way I’ve always thought of it.

33 Responses to Black Friday

  1. Rick says:

    Shame on any company that forces its workers to now come in on Thanksgiving in order to lengthen its Black Friday. I’ll have to seriously reconsider shopping at Best Buy (and surely other stores) again. Don’t want to support this stuff.

    • KHAZAD says:

      If more people reacted this way, we might be able to actually bring change to business practices. I have “voted” with my wallet when it comes to labor practices for many years now, beginning with walmart. (I have not been in a walmart in about 17 years) Unfortunately, I don’t think that most people care.

      • DjangoZ says:

        Walmart is the one store I will never shop in. They are the worst retail business in America and there is no close second.

  2. It’s disgusting corporations are forcing minimum wage employees to work Thanksgiving night. If a store opens at 6 PM, that means employees are getting there at 4 or 5 to prepare. I will never shop on Thanksgiving night.

  3. Excelsior says:

    It has become the most American of all holidays: sacrificing family and friends at the alter of capitalism. If you or someone you know is shopping on Thursday (or even early Friday), ask how many employees are getting holiday pay or something extra for being there. Spoiler alert: the answer is zero.

    • Excelsior says:

      altar* damn you, homonyms.

    • Bill White says:

      Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, any hourly employee is entitled to overtime pay for hours worked on a holiday, or for hours worked beyond 8 on other days, unless the employee has voluntarily agreed to a modified schedule such as four 10 hour days per week. Hours worked beyond 40 in a given week also require overtime pay, again excepting special schedules. As for those special schedules, they must be OSHA approved. In these economic times, our business seems to have its biggest problems when all employees can’t be given overtime opportunities.

    • Cathead says:

      If you look at the state of the American family you will see that it has been the subject of sacrifice for decades. People put their individuality ahead of their family. Capitalism, on the other hand, got along for decades without Thanksgiving shopping. It’s just there now picking up the leftovers of what was family life.

  4. Jason says:

    All the best virtues of Thanksgiving sacrificed for all the worst virtues of Christmas. Essentially all these people have decided they would rather shop instead of spending time with their families–under the guise of saving money and finding great deals. No time for giving thanks for what we have, got to get out and get more, more, more.

  5. BeninDSM says:

    Is it a local quirk or something that a synonym for Good Friday (The religious holiday marking Jesus’ death just before Easter) is Black Friday? Surprised and confused this didn’t get a mention.

  6. Bill Caffrey says:

    I think it’s at least partially amplified this year by the fact that Thanksgiving is on November 28, which is the latest it can possibly fall. So the shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the shortest that it can get, and almost a full week shorter than when Thanksgiving falls on its earliest possible date, Nov. 22. Not that they wouldn’t anyway, but that’s probably motivating stores to exploit Black Friday as much as possible this year.

  7. Richard says:

    There’s also “Black Sunday”, the gothic horror movie by Mario Bava starring Barbara Steele…

  8. James says:

    To anyone who had to sit through the awful Black Sunday movie (Bruce Dern trying to blow up the Super Bowl using the Goodyear Blimp) this is clearly the worst of the black days.

  9. J Hench says:

    Don’t let it fall on me.

  10. Nats says:

    Was the theme song for the movie Black Sunday by Black Sabbath?

  11. history says:

    The original reference to Black Friday:
    Black Friday, September 24, 1869 was caused by two speculators’ efforts, Jay Gould and James Fisk, to corner the gold market on the New York Gold Exchange.

    Agreed – Thanksgiving should never be confused with Black Friday.

  12. Andy says:

    When I hear “Black Friday,” I think of the song on Steely Dan’s fourth album, Katy Lied.

  13. Mark Daniel says:

    I look to save something like $150 on Black Friday deals. I don’t see why this is a bad thing. Christmas is looming and times are tough, man.

  14. Jason N. says:

    Is the biggest shopping day in Canada the Tuesday after the second Monday in October? Gonna make everyone look that up.

  15. DodgersKings323 says:

    Thanksgiving is also a dark day if you see what really went down

  16. Jesse says:

    Look up “black saturday” as it relates to professional wrestling. It’s amusing, to say the least.

  17. Black Friday is the day when everyone goes out as early as we can to buy everything we can get our greedy hands on the day after giving thanks for everything we already have.

  18. DMS says:

    Interesting piece.

    I thought “black” referred to the idea that retailers put themselves in the black from a profitability standpoint. The holiday shopping period with its sheer sales volume is considered vital in this regard.

    Either way, really enjoy this blog.

  19. […] Black Friday by Joe Posnanski Another wonderful piece by Posnanski (a favorite of mine) on what Black Friday means. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *