Black Friday is the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States, traditionally the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. On this day, most major retailers open extremely early, often at 4 a.m., or earlier, and offer promotional sales to kick off the shopping season, similar to Boxing Day sales in many Commonwealth Nations.
Black Friday is not a federal holiday, but is a public holiday in some states. Many people take a day of their annual leave on the day after Thanksgiving Day. Many organizations also close for the Thanksgiving weekend. Public transit systems may run on their normal schedule or may have changes. Some stores extend their opening hours on Black Friday. There can also be congestion on roads to popular shopping destinations.
Eventually the term came to describe the start of the period when retailers see profits for the year and a kind of retail gluttony so divorced from the true spirit of the season that it made all but the most benumbed consumers feel conflicted, if not ashamed, of the excess.
There have been several Black Fridays. The term is often used to designate a dark financial day. In England it has special reference to Friday, Dec. 6, 1745, the day on which news came to London that the young Pretender, Charles Edward had reached Derby; and also to Friday, May 11, 1866, which was the height of the commercial panic in London through the failure of Overend, Gurney & Co. Sept. 24, 1869, is sometimes referred to as Black Friday in the United States. On this day a syndicate of New York bankers advanced the price of gold to 162 1/2, causing a panic. It sold at 143 1/8 the previous evening. Another such day was Friday, Sept. 19, 1873, when Jay Cooke & Co., leading American bankers, failed. A great crash ensued in Wall street, the center of financial operations in America, and the historic panic of 1873 began. Credit generally was impaired and many financial institutions were forced into bankruptcy.
It's notable that both articles discuss how much Philadelphia merchants disliked the label "Black Friday" and tried to get people to use a more positive term: "Big Friday." That effort failed, of course, and "Black Friday" caught on, spreading to other cities in the 1970s and '80s. And instead of trying to replace "Black Friday" with "Big Friday," retailers and advertisers found a new way of ameliorating the name for the day: circulating the story that "Black Friday" is so called not because of the disastrous traffic conditions but because of the profits seen by stores.
Hardly a stimulus for good business, the problem was discussed by the merchants with their Deputy City Representative, Abe S. Rosen, one of the country's most experienced municipal PR executives. He recommended adoption of a positive approach which would convert Black Friday and Black Saturday to Big Friday and Big Saturday. The media cooperated in spreading the news of the beauty of Christmas-decorated downtown Philadelphia, the popularity of a "family-day outing" to the department stores during the Thanksgiving weekend, the increased parking facilities, and the use of additional police officers for guaranteeing a free flow of traffic ...
Every "Black Friday," no traffic policeman was permitted to take the day off. The division was placed on 12 tours of duty, and even the police band was ordered to Center City. It was not unusual to see a trombone player directing traffic. Two officers were assigned to intersections along Market Street to control the throngs of pedestrians. The department also placed police officers outside parking garages because the "lot filled" signs failed to deter motorists from lining up on the curb lane outside the garage. This reduced street size from two lanes to one. This caused traffic to back up and block traffic at the next intersection. This caused massive gridlock.
The term "Black Friday" came out of the old Philadelphia Police Department's traffic squad. The cops used it to describe the worst traffic jams which annually occurred in Center City on the Friday after Thanksgiving. It was the day that Santa Claus took his chair in the department stores and every kid in the city wanted to see him. It was the first day of the Christmas shopping season. Schools were closed. Late in the day, out-of-town visitors began arriving for the Army-Navy football game.
The principal flaw is that -- while Martin Apfelbaum was reporting in January, 1966 that Philly cops were calling the day, with its "massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks," thus -- the proposal that the term "Black Friday" had to do with putting local businesses "back in the black" hasn't been found (granted, so far) to appear before November, 1981 .
The day has come to be known in the United States as "Black Friday," and there are a number of myths about the origin of the name. Retailers would like you to believe that it's the day when stores turn a profit on the year, thus "going into the black." But don't you believe it: the true origins come from traffic-weary police officers in Philadelphia in the early 1960s.
The best deals are often doorbusters, planned promotional deals used to lure crowds out early, which come in limited quantities or at sales events that last a few hours. Others are sweepstakes giveaways to the first 100 or so in the door. Many of the best sales are never advertised beyond a window sign. But the markdown racks — usually in the back of apparel departments — harbor the real steals. That's stuff the store discounts 365 days a year (routinely at 50 to 70 percent off, depending on how long it has languished there) because it didn't sell at full price.
U.S. retailers now mark the day by offering low prices on a range of products, and mobs of shoppers who want to take advantage of the bargains line up hours before stores open. Some people even camp out overnight.
Last year, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death as shoppers stampeded into a store at Valley Stream, N.Y.
This year was tamer, with few injuries reported across the U.S.
About a third of all shoppers will be out in force Black Friday, hunting for deals, looking for gift ideas and holding up their end of an annual family shopping rite that signals the start of the holiday season.
Many people have a day off work or choose to take a day from their quota of annual leave on Black Friday. Some people use this to make trips to see family members or friends who live in other areas or to go on vacation. Others use it to start shopping for the Christmas season. Shopping for Christmas presents is also popular on Black Friday.
Sales during Black Friday and the weekend following can account for as much as 40 percent of annual sales and profits for many stores.