Why the Day After Thanksgiving is Called “Black Friday”

In this video from our YouTube channel (click here to subscribe), we take a look at the real reason the day after Thanksgiving is called “Black Friday.” And if you’ve heard it’s because that’s when retailers finally make a profit for the year (moving out of the red, and into the black)… well, you might want to give this video a watch. 😉 To make sure you don’t miss out on many more videos like this, be sure and subscribe to our new daily channel!

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Text Version:

“Black Friday” as a name for the day after Thanksgiving was coined by police officers in New England. One of the earliest documented references of this was in December of 1961, where Denny Griswold of Public Relations News stated: “in Philadelphia, it became customary for officers to refer to the post-Thanksgiving days as Black Friday and Black Saturday. Hardly a stimulus for good business, the problem was discussed by… merchants with their Deputy City Representative… He recommended adoption of a positive approach which would convert Black Friday and Black Saturday to Big Friday and Big Saturday.” (Referring to the traffic and number of accidents.)

“Big Friday” never caught on, but over the next decade, more and more references can be found in various newspaper archives of this particular Friday being called “Black Friday” for this reason.
In the 1980s as the name’s popularity spread throughout the United States, a new origin theory popped up, often touted by the media, that most retailers operated at a financial loss for the majority of the year and Black Friday was named such because it was the day of the year when the retailers would finally see a profit, moving out of the red and into the black.

This simply isn’t true. While there are some retailers that depend on the Christmas season’s revenue to make a profit for the year, most see profits every quarter based on the quarterly SEC filings of major retailers in the United States. There are also no documented references to this potential origin predating November of 1981.

Another common theory often put forth is that the name came from the famous “Great Depression” stock market crash in 1929. While this does pre-date the “New England police” origin, the problem is that the event in question happened on a Tuesday, not a Friday- also, it was on October 29th, so had nothing to do with the day after Thanksgiving.

The actual “Black Friday” stock market scare happened in 1869, was in September, and had to do with gold prices- so, again, nothing to do with the day after Thanksgiving.

While we’re on the topic of Black Friday myths, it should be noted that Black Friday is not the biggest shopping day of the year. In fact, it’s typically not even in the top five, though has cracked the ranks a few times.

The real biggest shopping day of the year is nearly always the Saturday before Christmas, except when Christmas falls on a weekend day, in which case the biggest shopping day of the year is usually the Thursday or Friday before Christmas. Thus, the procrastinators seem to outnumber the early birds.

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  • I’ve heard this story before BUT Philadelphia IS NOT IN New England!

    For some reason geographically challenged folks, usually west of the Mississippi, think New England refers to the whole northeast or even the whole east coast.

    If it helps, from the Wikipedia, “New England (/nuːˈɪŋɡlənd/) is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Connecticut…New England is the only one of the United States Census Bureau’s nine regional divisions whose name does not derive from its geography, and it is the only multi-state region with clear, consistent boundaries.”

    • Daven Hiskey

      Yep, I worded that poorly. I wasn’t meaning to imply that Philadelphia was in New England, just that police officers in the New England and surrounding areas were the first to use the term. Around the time of the Philadelphia reference, which was one of the earliest, there were several other documented references in the actual New England area as well.

      Normally I’d just change the text, but being in video, once uploaded to Youtube it can’t be changed unless I just want to re-upload it as a separate video and delete the old. Maybe I’ll see about adding an annotation or something. 🙂

  • OK for you in the USA with your Black Friday and Saturday.
    In Australia, Black Friday and Black Saturday are the days when hundreds of people died in wild-fires.

  • Cool to know! Off topic: It’s cool how you comment on comments, and you never sound like a tool, even when people write nit-picky things (not in this article, but I read some on your other ones and some people are madly in love with grammar, of all things)

    • Daven Hiskey

      @noel: Thanks! I can tell you that running a popular site on the internet for years… let’s just say one has to grow a thick skin for criticism, which is rarely constructive on the internet for some reason. 🙂 But because of that, it makes it that much nicer when someone leaves a compliment! 🙂

  • This article raises as many questions as it answers. OK, so the term Black Friday began with its use by police officers in the north-eastern portion of the country. Do you have any explanation for why they chose to do so?

    • That is why I was left scratching my head after reading this article. No explanation was given at all.