Why Its Called Black Friday

For many folks, Black Friday signals the beginning of the holiday shopping season and the countdown to Christmas begins in earnest. Some, on the other hand, see the Friday following Thanksgiving as a headache and major money suck. No matter where you fall in the spectrum of opinions about Black Friday, you’re likely wondering how Black Friday got its somewhat odd moniker. Let’s take a look at the legend of Black Friday.

What’s in a Name?

William Shakespeare himself could have never imagined the hordes of people packing into malls, shopping centers, and stores across an entire nation just to buy gifts for one another, but what’s in the name of Black Friday?

For a day that bears such positivity — smells of the holidays, sweet treats, and gifts for loved ones — one may wonder why the word “black” is used to describe what is otherwise the beginnings of the most joyous season. After all, one of the greatest financial disasters — the stock market crash of October 29, 1929 — which essentially ushered in the Great Depression was ominously dubbed Black Tuesday.

There are both historical and business roots to the Black Friday name and both have their rightful place in the lore of one of America’s most spendy “holidays.”

Black Friday in History

Shopping on the Friday following Thanksgiving has been a tradition for some time, especially in large metropolitan areas. Historians contend that the term Black Friday dates back to the 1960s in Philadelphia, and most seem to agree that the original term “Black Friday” was used by law enforcement officials and bus drivers trying to navigate the busy streets of Philadelphia.

They began calling the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday” in reference to the sheer volume of vehicles and humanity swarming the streets. The name stuck, but retailers weren’t so fond of it.

Black Friday in Business

Just as you were scratching your head wondering why Black Tuesday and Black Friday can be so synonymous, yet have such different meanings, marketers felt much the same. In the 1980s, retailers made a push to change the connotation of Black Friday to one that had a more positive business-centric vibe.

So the story goes, retailers urged the term Black Friday to be used to signify the profitability of the biggest shopping day in America. From a retailers standpoint, Black Friday meant finally turning the corner and going into the profitable “black” territory. This terminological use, however, requires a bit of history in its own right.

Many Americans removed from the bookkeeping side of business may not realize that accountants are the likely culprits for the retailers’ (and most Americans’) usage of the word “black” for profitability.
Accountants traditionally used red ink to signify losses or expenses and black ink to signify income or profits; therefore, black became the eponymous symbol of profitability and the name for the Friday following Thanksgiving.

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