Black Friday is the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States (the fourth Thursday of November). Since 1952, it has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the U.S., and most major retailers open very early (and more recently during overnight hours) and offer promotional sales. Black Friday is not an official holiday, but California and some other states observe “The Day After Thanksgiving” as a holiday for state government employees, sometimes in lieu of another federal holiday such as Columbus Day. Many non-retail employees and schools have both Thanksgiving and the following Friday off, which, along with the following regular weekend, makes it a four-day weekend, thereby increasing the number of potential shoppers. It has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005, although news reports, which at that time were inaccurate, have described it as the busiest shopping day of the year for a much longer period of time. Similar stories resurface year upon year at this time, portraying hysteria and shortage of stock, creating a state of positive feedback.
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. Around the same time, the terms “Black Friday” and “Black Saturday” came to be used by the police in Philadelphia and Rochester to describe the crowds and traffic congestion accompanying the start of the Christmas shopping season. In 1961, the city and merchants of Philadelphia attempted to improve conditions, and a public relations expert recommended rebranding the days, “Big Friday” and “Big Saturday”; but these terms were quickly forgotten. Use of the phrase spread slowly, first appearing in The New York Times on November 29, 1975, in which it still refers specifically to “the busiest shopping and traffic day of the year” in Philadelphia. Although it soon became more widespread, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 1985 that retailers in Cincinnati and Los Angeles were still unaware of the term.
For many years, it was common for retailers to open at 6:00 a.m., but in the late 2000s many had crept to 5:00 or 4:00. This was taken to a new extreme in 2011, when several retailers (including Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Best Buy, and Bealls) opened at midnight for the first time. In 2012, Walmart and several other retailers announced that they would open most of their stores at 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, prompting calls for a walkout among some workers. In 2014, stores such as JCPenney, Best Buy, and Radio Shack opened at 5:00 PM on Thanksgiving Day while stores such as Target, Walmart, Belk, and Sears opened at 6:00 PM on Thanksgiving Day. Three states, Rhode Island, Maine, and Massachusetts, prohibit large supermarkets, big box stores, and department stores from opening on Thanksgiving, due to what critics refer to as blue laws. The Massachusetts ban on forcing employees to work on major holidays is not a religion-driven “blue law” but part of the state’s Common Day of Rest Law. A bill to allow stores to open on Thanksgiving Day was the subject of a public hearing on July 8, 2017. There have been reports of violence occurring between shoppers on Black Friday. Since 2006, there have been 7 reported deaths and 98 injuries throughout the United States. It is common for prospective shoppers to camp out over the Thanksgiving holiday in an effort to secure a place in front of the line and thus a better chance at getting desired items. This poses a significant safety risk, such as the use of propane and generators in the most elaborate cases, and in general, the blocking of emergency access and fire lanes, causing at least one city to ban the practice.