Black Friday is looming large on the horizon. The annual event marks the unofficial start of the Christmas holiday shopping season.
The day sees a host of retailers slash prices on a number of gift items, from electronics and homeware to clothes, beauty products and more. Some retailers offer early Black Friday deals, offering their discounts ahead of the official date of the event.
But how did the Black Friday shopping extravaganza begin?
When Is Black Friday in 2021?
Black Friday takes place on the day immediately after Thanksgiving, which this year falls on November 25. So in 2021, Black Friday lands on November 26.
Black Friday’s Origins
The phrase “Black Friday” was reportedly first coined back in the 1960s in Pennsylvania, when police in Philadelphia referred to the day after Thanksgiving as such due to the large crowds seen that day.
According to David Zyla, the author of How to Win at Shopping, the Philadelphia Police Department used the phrase to describe “the traffic jams and intense crowding of the downtown retail stores,” the HuffPost reported in 2020.
Zyla said one of the first uses of the term that appeared in print was in an advertisement in the 1966 issue of The American Philatelist, a magazine for stamp collectors.
According to an archived excerpt from the ad, which was seen in a thread on The Linguist List, an online forum run by the Indiana University Department of Linguistics, the ad said Black Friday was the name assigned by the Philadelphia police to “the Friday following Thanksgiving Day.”
“It is not a term of endearment to them. ‘Black Friday’ officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing,” the archived excerpt read.
Unsurprisingly, several retailers weren’t happy about the gloomy connotation of the term (the phrase “Black Friday” also dates back to September 24, 1869 in the U.S., which saw gold prices drop and trigger a securities market panic).
The HuffPost reported that as early as 1961, public relations executives attempted to give it a positive spin by trying to change the name to “Big Friday,” according to an issue of Public Relations News, an industry newsletter.
The issue read: “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,” according to the newsletter.
While the term “Big Friday” didn’t stick in the end, eventually most shoppers began associating the day with a rise in discounted offers, according to the HuffPost.
Link to Retail Deals
The idea of linking retail deals to the Friday after Thanksgiving has been around for longer than the term “Black Friday.”
According to a 2013 HuffPost article, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially moved the date of Thanksgiving to the penultimate Thursday of November in 1939, following pressure from the Retail Dry Goods Association.
Retailers were concerned the shorter holiday shopping season could negatively impact sales, with Thanksgiving falling on November 30 in 1939.
However, many retailers and customers ignored the new date, calling it “Franksgiving” instead. Congress passed a law in 1941 saying that Thanksgiving would be observed on the fourth Thursday of the month.