Black Friday or the day following Thanksgiving Day in the USA (the fourth Thursday of November). Since 1932, it has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the USA, and most major retailers open early or also during overnight hours, in order to offer promotional sales. Black Friday is not an official holiday, but it has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005.

The earliest evidence of the phrase Black Friday suggests that the term originated in Philadelphia, where it was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that would occur on the day after Thanksgiving. This usage dates to at least 1961. More than twenty years later, as the phrase became more widespread, a popular explanation became that this day represented the point in the year when retailers begin to turn a profit, thus going from being “in the red” to being “in the black”.

For centuries, the adjective “black” has been applied to days upon which calamities occurred. Many events have been described as “Black Friday”, although the most significant such event in American History was the Panic of 1869, which occurred when financiers Jay Gould and James Fisk took advantage of their connections with the Grant Administration in an attempt to corner the gold market. When President Grant learned of this manipulation, he ordered the treasury to release a large supply of gold, which halted the run and caused prices to drop by eighteen percent. Fortunes were made and lost in a single day, and the president’s own brother-in-law, Abel Corbin, was ruined.

The earliest known use of “Black Friday” to refer to the day after Thanksgiving occurs in the journal, Factory Management and Maintenance, for November 1951, and again in 1952. Here it referred to the practice of workers calling in sick on the day after Thanksgiving, in order to have a four-day weekend. However, this use does not appear to have caught on.

As the phrase gained national attention in the early 1980s, merchants objecting to the use of a derisive term to refer to one of the most important shopping days of the year suggested an alternative derivation: that retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss for most of the year (January through November) and made their profit during the holiday season, beginning on the day after Thanksgiving. When this would be recorded in the financial records, once-common accounting practices would use red ink to show negative amounts and black ink to show positive amounts. Black Friday, under this theory, is the beginning of the period when retailers would no longer be “in the red”, instead taking in the year’s profits.

In 2013, an internet rumor alleged that the phrase originated in the American south before the Civil War, from the practice of selling slaves on the day after Thanksgiving. Although the concept of a national day of thanksgiving originated in the time of George Washington, it was not until 1863 that President Lincoln declared an annual holiday to be celebrated on the last Thursday (now the fourth Thursday) in November; and this proclamation would have been ignored in the Confederacy until after the Civil War.

The term Cyber Monday, a neologism invented in 2005 by the National Retail Federation’s division Shop.org, refers to the Monday immediately following Black Friday based on a trend that retailers began to recognize in 2003 and 2004. Retailers noticed that many consumers, who were too busy to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend or did not find what they were looking for, shopped for bargains online that Monday from home or work.

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