Are we all just consumerism-afflicted animals? Does Black Friday even have anything to do with the feel-goodness of the holidays anymore? What is it all for?!
All valid questions, but we’re here to discuss how Black Friday began. I’ll leave the existential part of it for your Thanksgiving dinner table. Happy feasting!
This insane pseudo holiday dates back to the previous century. Thanksgiving parades were an instituted tradition, and they’d normally feature Santa Claus at the end to officially mark the beginning of the holiday season (See, everyone? The Christmas season starts on Black Friday. No earlier.) The idea of Black Friday wasn’t set in stone at this time, but it was more based in the tradition that no holiday sales would begin until after Thanksgiving.
Now, we know that this system is more psychotic than those in the 1900s probably meant it. In this century, Thanksgiving hasn't even begun before sales commence, and if a store closes its doors on Turkey Day nowadays, it’s basically retail suicide. Get those sales up before anyone else, that’s the name of the game.
Then again, maybe that was the point -- Thanksgiving used to be celebrated on Nov. 30, but in 1939 President Franklin Roosevelt decided to move it up to where it is now at the last Thursday of the month so that stores could get those holiday shoppers in a full week earlier, which was a mess and confused everyone for a few years. The damn system.
In any case, it’s obviously evolved a lot from its beginnings, but the origin of the name is skewed. One potential source can be traced to 1960s Philadelphia, when a Black Friday fell between Thanksgiving and the annual Army-Navy football game. The city was absolutely slammed, and while retailers loved the extra potential shoppers hanging out, the police force and cabbies had such a hard time navigating and dealing with the city. So, they dubbed it “Black” Friday to portray their annoyance.
Another potential naming convention came from a particularly horrendous financial crisis in which two Wall Streeters scammed their fellow financiers. The story goes that Jay Gould and Jim Fisk collaborated to buy up as much gold stock to drive the prices up in order to resell for enormous profits, but they were found out and the fallout ended up bankrupting everyone. This, of course, happened on a Friday.
Since both of these stories carry such negative connotations, retailers twisted them to put a better, more positive angle on their biggest day of the day so that people would continue to shop ‘til they dropped. Hence the reference to profit margins: In retail, if profits are “in the black,” it means the company is profitable for the year. Since the day after Thanksgiving provides an influx of shoppers, and therefore revenue, you could call it a black shopping day. And, thanks to FDR, it’s always on a Friday.
Now, we have Small Business Saturday and Sunday and Cyber Monday, and a lot of brands continue their sales all the way through the week following Thanksgiving. It's almost too big to control now.
But while the potential for savings is great, I have to say, not feeling like you have to wake up at 4 a.m. to hit the stores when the doors open takes some of the fun out of Black Friday.
But you bet your butt I’ll be hitting up Bath & Body Works’ deal on three-wick candles.