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Black Friday; Who Coined This Term And Manufactured Chaos?

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(This photo was  taken last year on Nov. 28, at a Chicago Target)

We need to start our engines earlier and earlier each year to participate in what has become the madness of Black Friday shopping. Some folks are barely getting to cut that pumpkin pie or grab a second helping of Thanksgiving stuffing because they are running  out to Walmart or Target or some other wondrous place that allows hundreds of people to stand in line for a store allotment of 10 made-in-Taiwan big screen TV’s or like a few years ago, $2. waffle makers that held the promise of lasting 24 hours.

Black Friday is considered the single biggest shopping day of the year for retailers.  While the name Black Friday may conjure up images of the stock market crash or a power outage, this unofficial U.S. holiday, which falls the day after Thanksgiving, has been traditionally the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season. But, what used to be a kinder and gentler shopping day filled with excitement, fun and Holiday spirit has given way to the spirit of greed as shoppers battle each other for made-in-China crap and last years leftover merchandise along with helping themselves to other people’s shopping carts.

So where did the name Black Friday originate? How did the day after Thanksgiving (and now taking a bite out of Thanksgiving) become the biggest shopping day of the year? In the old days of hand-kept accounting records, red ink indicated a stores loss, and black ink signified a profit. The holiday shopping season is believed to be when stores move from the red to the black. It is said that 20-40 percent of a retailers annual revenue is generated in November and December.

Just like Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start to summer, Thanksgiving, and later in history, Black Friday signify the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. It has been this way since 1924, when Macy’s held its first Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. For the past 89 years Thanksgiving has been uniquely associated with shopping and consumerism. The holiday parade is a Thanksgiving tradition, but it is also a three-hour advertisement for Macy’s.

The name Black Friday has other meanings also, and it is often hard to decipher fact from fiction. It is said that in the 1950s, people working in industrial factories referred to the day after Thanksgiving as Black Friday because so many people didn’t show up for work. Whether these people were out bargain hunting or simply sleeping off too much holiday fun, remains a mystery.

The term Black Friday, however, didn’t gain mainstream  popularity until the 1960s, when Philadelphia police used the expression to complain about streets jammed with shoppers, pedestrians and motorists on the day after Thanksgiving. The phrase was first used in an article in The American Philatelist. By the 1970s, the Philadelphia area was using the expression Black Friday to signal the beginning of the holiday shopping season, and the term caught on.

I used to go shopping on Black Friday when my daughter was young but we didn’t really shop much. We would have lunch somewhere (crowded of course), mingle and mix with the (then sane) crowds and check out the cool Christmas decorations. We thought it was fun to be out and about on Black Friday. But now that retailers have answered the call- of- the- wild- consumers wanting a feeding frenzy of deals and steals, I stay far away from stores on Black Friday and the entire week-end.  The retail outlets, of course, are touting this extravaganza shopping-or-bust day to combat online shopping which takes a good chunk of consumer spending away from brick and mortar stores. But, at least I know if I stay home and shop on my computer I won’t get maced by a “mad” shopper.

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