History of Black Friday


While it is difficult to connect this term to the start of the Christmas shopping sales season before its use in the mid-1960s in Philadelphia, the concept appears to go back to the 19th century when Christmas sales followed Thanksgiving Day parades. In 1939 President Franklin D Roosevelt set the date of Thanksgiving to the next to last Thursday in November rather than the last Thursday of the month, allowing an extra week of shopping before Christmas. In 1941 Congress officially made Thanksgiving the 4th Thursday in November. Though procrastinators usually make the shopping days immediate before Christmas the most profitable, Black Friday is certainly one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Below are some helpful definitions for specific holiday terms used during this time of year:

  • Black Friday: a shopping holiday that begins earlier each year, once beginning at 7 am and now at 4 am (or even midnight), on the Friday following Thanksgiving. This was once the official opening of the Christmas shopping season, given its name due to the belief that retailers would now be “in the black” (profitable) as opposed to “in the red” (losses), both historical accounting terms, though this particular connotation of Black Friday did not arrive until the 1980s. The opening day phenomena of Christmas decorations is now being eroded by Christmas Creep.
  • Christmas Creep: the tendency of retailers, especially during tough economic times, to introduce the beginning of the Christmas shopping season along with attendant decorations and music earlier in the year to drive consumer behavior. Once occurring around Thanksgiving, now concurrent with Halloween.
  • O’Dark Thirty: an imprecise time, usually before sun up, when the alarm goes off to signal the beginning of shopping with the illusory promise that sleep loss relates to saving money. The personal start of the orgy of predawn consumerism.
  • Carpe item: “Seize the sale offering” that practice of not spending the time to examine an item, but quickly stuffing it in the shopping cart for later qualification.
  • Tag team: power shoppers technique of one getting in the checkout line with a partially filled shopping cart while the other does the real shopping delivering items back to said shopping cart while the blood pressure of those in queue behind goes up.
  • Tryptophan: one of the 20 standard amino acids, and an essential amino acid in the human diet that is found in high levels in turkey (and in most other Thanksgiving meats) which when combined with considerable quantities of carbohydrates and inebriating fluids has a soporific effect. Antidote: Black Friday
  • Parking Vultures: people who circle the parking lot looking for shoppers who are leaving so that they might get their parking spot.
  • Cyber Monday: three days later when you can hit the virtual malls in your pajamas and slippers from the comfort of your own computer. Originally named in the mid-aughts of the 21st century as an online alternative to the brick-and-mortar shopping mall crush, it too is subject to Cyber Creep, as it moves earlier in the calendar asymptotically approaching Black Friday.
  • Black Friday Black Humor: this article would be an example of that.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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