MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Do We Call It “Black Friday”?

Once folks regained consciousness following their turkey coma on the day after Thanksgiving, a large majority of them did what so many red-blooded Americans have done through the years: they went shopping. Last year alone, shoppers spent a record $9.12 billion just in online shopping on “Black Friday”, with that single day bolstering the bottom line for retailers like Walmart, Target, Amazon, etc. But if “Black Friday” is such a financial boon, why is it called “Black Friday”? Because you have to remember…that “black” modifier was usually used for money-draining events, like the Thursday that led to the 1929 stock market crash or the 1869 Friday when the gold market collapsed & led to the financial ruin of so many American citizens & institutions. So, why do we call what’s hoped to be a positive experience “Black Friday”?

Clearly, the “black” label hasn’t always had a positive holiday-money-spending connotation, as it does today. Starting in the 1950s, employers, and soon after the media, began noticing that lots of folks were calling out sick the day after Thanksgiving (since, traditionally, Thanksgiving was not a paid holiday). It was a way for them to give themselves a 4-day weekend. And for businesses, that Friday was definitely the opposite of positive, since productivity significantly evaporated. Law enforcement also ended up not caring for that particular Friday, either. Because with everyone taking off of work & kids not going to school, traffic in major cities grew & gave rise to bigger headaches for first responders. So you see, the “Black Friday” label seemed appropriate.

The negative connotation of “Black Friday” spread via word-of-mouth & the media, leading some retailers to go so far as to try & rename the day as “Big Friday” as a way to avoid the association with disaster. Clearly, though, that (thankfully) didn’t stick. But over the years, the term “Black Friday” grew to become synonymous with record profits, thanks to post-Thanksgiving shopping deals, and it was ultimately permanently adopted as the proud name used by frenzied shoppers to describe the day they take off to do their Christmas shopping.

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