Black Friday is the last Friday before Christmas.
In the UK, Black Friday is one of the busiest days of the year for restaurants, public houses and nightclubs being the busiest night of the year for office Christmas parties. Black Friday is one of the busiest days of the year for emergency services.
It is generally celebrated when people finish work and wish to celebrate the beginning of the Christmas period.
American definitions of Black Friday
Black Friday as a term has been used in multiple contexts, going back to the nineteenth century, where it was associated with a financial crisis in 1869. The earliest uses of “Black Friday” to mean the day after Thanksgiving come from or reference Philadelphia and refer to the heavy traffic on that day. The earliest known reference to “Black Friday” (in this sense), found by Bonnie Taylor-Blake of the American Dialect Society, refers to Black Friday 1965 and makes the Philadelphia origin explicit:
JANUARY 1966 — “Black Friday” is the name which the Philadelphia Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment to them. “Black Friday” officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing.
The term Black Friday began to get wider exposure around 1975, as shown by two newspaper articles from November 29, 1975, both datelined Philadelphia. The first reference is in an article entitled “Army vs. Navy: A Dimming Splendor,” in The New York Times:
Philadelphia police and bus drivers call it “Black Friday” – that day each year between Thanksgiving Day and the Army–Navy Game. It is the busiest shopping and traffic day of the year in the Bicentennial City as the Christmas list is checked off and the Eastern college football season nears conclusion.
The derivation is also clear in an Associated Press article entitled “Folks on Buying Spree Despite Down Economy,” which ran in the Titusville Herald on the same day:
Store aisles were jammed. Escalators were nonstop people. It was the first day of the Christmas shopping season and despite the economy, folks here went on a buying spree. … “That’s why the bus drivers and cab drivers call today ‘Black Friday,'” a sales manager at Gimbels said as she watched a traffic cop trying to control a crowd of jaywalkers. “They think in terms of headaches it gives them.”
Usage of the term has become more popular in the Midwest since 2000.
Many merchants objected to the use of a negative term to refer to one of the most important shopping days in the year. By the early 1980s, an alternative theory began to be circulated: 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 where retailers would no longer have losses (the red) and instead take in the year’s profits (the black).The earliest known use, again found by Bonnie Taylor-Blake, is from 1981, again from Philadelphia, and presents the “black ink” theory as one of several competing possibilities:
If the day is the year’s biggest for retailers, why is it called Black Friday? Because it is a day retailers make profits — black ink, said Grace McFeeley of Cherry Hill Mall. “I think it came from the media,” said William Timmons of Strawbridge & Clothier. “It’s the employees, we’re the ones who call it Black Friday,” said Belle Stephens of Moorestown Mall. “We work extra hard. It’s a long hard day for the employees.”
The Christmas shopping season is of enormous importance to American retailers and, while an examination of the quarterly SEC filings of major retailers such as Wal-Mart or Target shows that most retailers intend to and actually do make profits during every quarter of the year, some retailers are so dependent on the Christmas shopping season that the quarter including Christmas produces all the year’s profits and compensates for losses from other quarters.