The Origin of Black Friday

Did you score some great deals last Black Friday? Fair chance you did. The day after Thanksgiving slowly but surely has gained popularity here in the Netherlands. But why is this day so popular and why is it even called Black Friday?

Black Friday originated from the United States and is traditionally the Friday after Thanksgiving. The day has been regarded the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season, in which every America goes on the hunt for the perfect gifts for Christmas and all the stores conveniently start offering discounts. This unofficial opening of the shopping season may be linked to the practice of closing Thanksgiving parades with an appearance of Santa Claus himself, suggesting that Santa indeed is coming to town. With these parades, often sponsored by large department stores, came the unwritten rule to only start Christmas advertising after the parade was over.

It was this unwritten rule that caused a lot of controversy in the 1930s that had to be solved by president Franklin D. Roosevelt himself. During those years lots of retail stores wanted to have a longer shopping season, but did not want to break tradition first and start advertising before Thanksgiving, fearing backlash from the public. To offer a solution, president Roosevelt proclaimed in 1939 that Thanksgiving would henceforth be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, instead of the last, giving retailers an extra week in some years to advertise.

The nature of the phrase Black Friday has changed in the course of time, and therefore can be interpreted in different ways. The first recorded use of the phrase as the name for the day after Thanksgiving dates back to 1952, where it was used in a magazine specifically for factoryworkers to refer to the act of employees calling in sick the day after Thanksgiving to have a longer weekend. Around the same time the Police of Philadelphia started using the phrase to describe the absolute traffic chaos that appeared on that day, due to the start of the Christmas shopping season. Later the city tried to re-brand the term to ‘Big Friday’ to avoid negative associations with the city, but the term did not stick. From heron the phrase slowly spread across America and Black Friday became known as ‘the busiest shopping and traffic day of the year’.

In the 1980’s retailers started to object to the derisive term, because for them, it referred to the most important day of the year. They gave Black Friday a new interpretation, by stating it was the day that most retailers started to make profit during the year, due to the start of the Christmas season. This could be seen in financial records when red numbers turned black, hence the phrase Black Friday. It became the day retailers would no longer be ‘in the red’.

By now the phrase was well known to the public and slowly started spreading to other countries. The combination of the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season and lots of people who get the day off forms the ultimate opportunity for retailers to generate revenue. However, some countries have slightly changed the concept or use a different term. In the UK for example, Black Friday was a term used by the Police and health workers to describe the Friday before Christmas. This day for them meant the start of the period in which the work load tended to heighten due to many people going out and drinking for Christmas. However with the introduction of American retailers and online webshops, Black Friday became a more generally used term. In the Netherlands, Black Friday started to gain popularity as late as 2015.

Written by: Isa Kraaijvanger

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