Here’s why we call the day after Thanksgiving ‘Black Friday’

  • The origin of the term “Black Friday” is murky.
  • The most popular telling is that the name came from the fact that the revenues generated from the day’s sales are so great, they can push retailers “into the black” for the year.
  • But the earliest reference to that explanation is 1981 – many years later than the name became popular.
  • A Philadelphia Inquirer reporter claimed in an article in 1994 he helped popularise the term by using it after the Philadelphia police started using it in the 1960s.

Though most shoppers likely don’t stop to think about why we call the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday,” all the same, many have wondered.The most popular explanation is that the day’s sales are so high, it can singlehandedly push a retailer from being “in the red,” or losing money, into “the black,” or solvency.

That reasoning first appeared in 1981, according to Snopes, but that’s apparently years after the Philadelphia police had already coined the term “Black Friday.” According to a 1994 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that was written by one of the reporters who claims to have popularised the term, “Black Friday” was actually coined in the 1960s.

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Black Friday has long been considered the start of the holiday shopping season, and since Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday, many schools and some businesses would be closed the day after.

Stores, however, were not closed, causing a spike in street traffic and crowds in Philadelphia’s Center City. Police officers in the city started calling the day Black Friday, as they had to work 12-hour shifts to mitigate the madness. From there, the media got a hold of it, and the name was popularised.

The nickname caught on even after PR firms hired by department stores tried to change the name to “Big Friday” in the 1960s. It didn’t work, and eventually, Black Friday spread across the US, morphing into the monument to holiday shopping we know today.

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