Since 1960, the Friday after Thanksgiving has been a day known for big retail markdowns — which makes it one of the best times to shop for Christmas gifts. Now, 54 years later, it's evolved into a crazed, caffeine-fueled shopping spree. Dubbed "Black Friday," the modern-day holiday has a pretty shaky reputation for being a consumerist fiasco during a time that is meant to be focused on gratitude and family. Those of us who have grown up with the day being a normal part of the holidays may wonder how Black Friday started. And just why is it so dark?
According to research from Bonnie Taylor-Blake of the American Dialect Society, who, you know, studies this sort of thing, the term "Black Friday," originated in factories as a reference to high worker absentee rates the day after Thanksgiving.
Taylor-Blake found the term was then adopted by police officers in Philadelphia, who complained about the increased pedestrian and vehicle traffic during the day from shoppers. So yeah, we hate traffic so much in the U.S. that we've partially named a day after it.
But the most popular explanation for the name — which is that retail businesses operate in a deficit ("the red") for the better part of the year, and that the day after Thanksgiving is the day they finally turn a profit and go into, "the black" — only came about in the 1980s with the work of various convincing ad agencies.
According to Taylor-Blake — who pulled up old public relations newsletters from the 1960s as part of her research — retailers initially hated the name because of its negative connotations, which often scared shoppers away, so they tried really hard to change it. This is where that latter explanation comes from.
Nowadays, the name is less about the traffic and more about the sheer insanity that occurs in everyone's favorite department stores and outlet malls. Personally, I feel like the name is more or less apt, considering it turns your average American consumer into a ravenous retail beast, willing to trample children and the elderly in pursuit of a discount flat screen. Never mind the poor store employees, who are pulled from their warm beds and loving families to deal with rude customers in the wee hours of the morning while trying to support themselves.
But yeah, all that horrendous traffic, you guys.