Traditionally Thanksgiving is a day of reflection and heartfelt gratitude, where the people of North America take some time to appreciate what they have. And then there’s the following day, Black Friday, which is all about getting more stuff, for less than everyone else. Oh yes, Black Friday is commonly viewed as the busiest shopping day of the year, and year on year the bargain-hunting frenzy seems to grow.
But how did the phenomenon first start? How extreme does it get? And why is it called Black Friday in the first place? Read on for a potted history of all things Black Friday and – if you’re something of a savvy shopper yourself – for heaven’s sakes, make sure Friday 24th of November is in your diary!
FACT 1: The ORIGINAL Black Friday had nothing to do with shopping.
Though we now associate Black Friday with unmissable shopping opportunities, the term was first used to describe events that took place on 24th September 1869, when two wiley speculators (Jay Gould and James Fisk), tried to manipulate the New York Stock Exchange to corner the gold market. When the government got wind of what the two men were doing, they flooded the market with gold, which led to prices plummeting and many investors losing sizable fortunes.
FACT 2: In the 50s ‘Black Friday’ was used to describe shirkers dodging work after Thanksgiving.
In 1951 the Factory Management and Maintenance journal reported on a new trend, whereby workers called in sick on the Friday following the Thanksgiving holiday, to enjoy a four-day weekend. Thus ‘Black Friday’ – as they termed it – referred to the day after Thanksgiving in print for the first time.
FACT 3: Black Friday as a shopping phenomenon remained a Philadelphia quirk for years.
Philadelphia first popularised the term Black Friday as we use it today at the start of the 1960s. Police officers and bus drivers, frustrated by the congestion created by shoppers on the Friday following Thanksgiving, used the term derisively. It wasn’t until 1975 that ‘Black Friday’ was used to describe ‘the busiest shopping and traffic day of the year’; a day when the Christmas shopping season officially begins.
FACT 4: Retailers came up with an alternative reason for why it’s called Black Friday.
Though its origins were negative, referring to congestion and associated pollution, retailers have been able to shift the perceived derivation over the years. They claim that Black Friday is named thus because they operate at a financial loss for most of the year and it is only as Christmas approaches that – financially speaking – they are pulled out of the red and into the black.
FACT 5: Black Friday has an alternative meaning in the UK.
Though the US Black Friday is also a popular shopping day in Great Britain, there’s also an alternative Black Friday in the UK. The terms is often used by the British police and NHS to describe the Friday before Christmas, when the volume of people out drinking leads to a dramatic leap in the number of injuries and disturbances they’re called to respond to.
FACT 6: The Black Friday phenomenon is spreading across the world.
Due to their proximity, Canadian citizens often venture across the border to find bargains in the US on Black Friday. Black Friday is also a hugely popular import in Romania, though it takes place a week before the US equivalent. E-Commenrce has also lead to a global spread of Black Friday, with massive uptake in India, Pakistan the UK, France, Germany, South Africa and many others.
FACT 7: Since 2007 at least seven people have died as a result of the Black Friday frenzy.
In recent years it’s become relatively common for bargain-hunters to camp out over the Thanksgiving holiday, thus securing their place at the front of the Black Friday queues. Then, once the doors open, people can get swept up in the frenzy of scrambling for a good deal. Since 2007 there have been seven Black Friday-related deaths and 98 injuries reported across the United States.
FACT 8: This year Black Friday falls on Friday 24th November.
In the US, where it originated, Black Friday always takes place the day after Thanksgiving. In 2017 it falls on Friday the 24th of November, next year it will be on Friday the 23rd of November (just in case you’re planning ahead).
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Last modified: November 23, 2017