As the biggest shopping day of the year in one of the biggest economies in the world, Black Friday is known to many for the chaos it brings when millions, full from dinner, descend on some of the best deals of the year.
Despite this tradition being nothing more than a second thought for many, I started to wonder where it even came from in the first place. It’s not like a bunch of stores just collectively decided to throw wild sales on the day after Thanksgiving (at least, I don’t think that’s what happened). So I decided to do some digging so you don’t have to.
- “Black Friday” didn’t always refer to the shopping fest we know it as
The term “Black Friday” was actually used to refer to stock market crashes in the 1800s. The first time the term was used in the US was on September 24, 1869, when two speculators, Jay Gould and James Fisk, tried to corner the gold market on the New York Stock Exchange. In layman’s terms, they were trying to manipulate the price of gold by owning a ton of it. Ultimately, the government stepped in and flooded the market with gold in order to nullify the damage Gould and Fisk had done, which caused prices to plummet and many investors lost their fortunes.
- The date of Thanksgiving was influenced by holiday shoppers
From the mid-19th century onward, the US president would declare a “day of giving thanks” on the last Thursday in November. This custom, started while Abraham Lincoln was in office, would either fall on the fourth or fifth Thursday of November. But in 1939, the last Thursday happened to fall on the last day of the month. Retailers began to worry about the shortened holiday shopping season and quickly petitioned the president to make the holiday a week earlier — which he did. The date flopped around for the next three years before Congress decided through a joint resolution in 1941 that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.
- Big Friday walked so Black Friday could run.
The term “Black Friday” is Philadelphia slang. Police officers, frustrated with traffic and congestion caused by shoppers, began referring to the day as “Black Friday.” Retailers tried to rebrand the day as “Big Friday” so that it wasn’t associated with things like bad traffic but, as you can tell, the term didn’t stick around for long.
- Black Friday wasn’t the biggest shopping day of the year until 2001
Up until 2001, Black Friday wasn’t the biggest shopping day of the year — it was actually the Saturday before Christmas. People love deals, but they love procrastinating even more.
- Black Friday is going international
For many, Black Friday deals are just too good to pass up — so much so that they’re even willing to travel internationally to get them! In a bid to stop their customers from leaving the country in search of better deals, Canadian retailers have begun to offer their own sales on Black Friday, even though Canadian Thanksgiving is actually at the beginning of October. In Mexico, there’s El Buen Fin, which roughly translates to “the good weekend.” This nationwide shopping event began in 2011 and falls on the weekend before Mexican Revolution Day.
And that’s all I’ve got with my digging! Whether you look forward to Black Friday every year or don’t really care much for the chaos (like me), I think it’s important to understand where our traditions come from and why they have become what they are today.