The day after Thanksgiving has been the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season since the late 19th century when President Abraham Lincoln designated the Thanksgiving holiday as the last Thursday in November. But the day didn’t earn the name “Black Friday” until much later.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
In 1905, Canadian department store Eaton’s began the first Thanksgiving Day parade by bringing Santa on a wagon through the streets of downtown Toronto. In 1913, eight live reindeer pulled Santa’s “sleigh.” By 1916, seven floats representing nursery rhyme characters joined Santa in the parade.
In 1924, the Eaton’s parade inspired Macy’s Department Store to launch its famous Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. Macy’s wanted to celebrate its success during the Roaring ’20s. The parade boosted shopping for the following day. Retailers had a gentleman’s agreement to wait until then before advertising holiday sales.
In 1939, during the Great Depression, Thanksgiving happened to fall during the fifth week of November. Retailers warned they would go bankrupt because the holiday shopping season was too short. They petitioned President Franklin D. Roosevelt to move the Thanksgiving holiday up to the fourth Thursday.
Unfortunately, by this time it was late October. Most people had already made their plans. Some were so upset that they called the holiday “Franksgiving” instead. Only 25 states followed FDR’s move. Texas and Colorado celebrated two holidays, which forced some companies to give their employees an extra day off
he Modern Black Friday Arrives
In the 1950s, people began calling in sick the day after Thanksgiving, essentially giving themselves a four-day weekend. Since stores were open, as were most businesses, those playing hooky could also get a head start on their holiday shopping. That’s as long as the boss didn’t see them. Rather than try to determine whose pay should be cut, and who was legitimately sick, many businesses started adding that day as another paid holiday.
In 1966, the Black Friday name became famous in print. That’s when a story appeared in an ad in The American Philatelist, a stamp collectors’ magazine. The Philadelphia Police Department had used the name to describe the shopping chaos at downtown stores.
For Decades “Black Friday” Was a Negative
At first, retailers did not appreciate the negative connotation associated with a “Black” day of the week. In fact, “Black Friday” was first associated with Friday, Sept. 24, 1869. Two speculators, Jay Gould, and James Fisk created a boom-and-bust in gold prices. A stock market crash followed as prices fell 20%. The disruption in gold prices sent commodity prices plummeting 50%. Corruption in Tammany Hall allowed Gould and Fisk to escape without punishment.6
Another dark day, Black Thursday, occurred on Oct. 24, 1929. It was the day that signaled the start of the Great Depression. It was followed the next week by Black Tuesday.7 On that day, the stock market lost 12% despite attempts by major investors to support stock prices.
Eventually Black Friday Meant “Profit” (and Discounts)
With all that shopping activity, the Friday after Thanksgiving became one of the most profitable days of the year. Because accountants use black to signify profit when recording each day’s book entries (and red to indicate a loss), the name took.
So, Black Friday now means profitable Friday to retailing and to the rest of the economy. That’s because retail and consumer spending drive almost 70% of U.S. gross domestic product.8 Retailers adopted the name, but this time to reflect their success. To encourage more people to shop, retailers began to offer deep discounts only available on that day.
Black Friday Violence
Black Friday crowds still give the police headaches. According to data analysis by The Hustle, there have been 11 deaths and more than 100 injuries on Black Friday since 2006.9 Violence has become so bad The New York Daily News renamed it “Black-eye Friday.”10
The worst Black Friday occurred in 2008 when a man was trampled to death at a New York Walmart. Despite being 6 feet, 5 inches tall and 270 pounds, temporary worker Jdimytai Damour died of asphyxiation when crowds stampeded into the store.11 At least 2,000 people broke down the doors, trapping Damour in a vestibule where he suffocated. Eleven other shoppers were also injured, including a pregnant woman. These incidents give police the right to call Black Friday by a negative name.