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The history of Black Friday: The biggest shopping day of the year

Shoppers rush to buy TVs during a Black Friday sale in Sao Paulo | Image: Nelson Antoine /

Black Friday lands on the 25th of November 2022, but (most) people in the UK don’t celebrate Thanksgiving and, as Thanksgiving is the reason for the existence of Black Friday, why do we have it? Well, some may argue that the English invented Thanksgiving when the Pilgrim Fathers from Plymouth, England landed on what would become US soil in 1621. So maybe we can take some credit for it?

When is Black Friday?

Since December 26, 1941, the fourth Thursday in November is always Thanksgiving, a directive that was signed and sealed by President Roosevelt, and the following day is what we now know as Black Friday. However, the earliest use of the phrase ‘Black Friday’ appeared in the trade journal, Factory Management and Maintenance in November 1951 and had nothing to do with strangers quarrelling over a Smart UHD TV, with over 20% off, in the local supermarket. Instead ‘Black Friday’, referred to the dubious practice of workers pulling sickies on the day after Thanksgiving, so that they may enjoy a four-day week with their families at their employer’s expense.

When did the definition of Black Friday change?

Factory Management and Maintenance’s version of Black Friday didn’t catch on but, in the mid-1970s, it gradually became synonymous with the sheer aggravation of what was once the busiest shopping day of the year. This negative polarity changed to that of a positive one in the 80s when Black Friday began to imply the state of being ‘in the black’ (as opposed to ‘being in the red’) due to increased retail sales. Even so, this new, more optimistic version of Black Friday hadn’t quite tricked down to the consumer, who still failed to see the fun in having to deal with heavy traffic, pushy shoppers, and an empty wallet a day after a great Thanksgiving with the family. So why not sacrifice some of Thanksgiving for a more, peaceful, shopping experience?

Black Thursday

In the USA during the mid-noughties, the short-lived trend of Black Thursday began when major stores such as Walmart, pre-emptying the carnage of Black Friday, started opening up to shoppers in the evening of Thanksgiving, and then all day. For a few years, Black Thursday invited limited interest in consumers, but a combination of a reluctance to leave Thanksgiving celebrations, the COVID Pandemic preventing large crowds from gathering at stores and, of course, the sheer convenience of shopping online, saw its popularity dwindle, with some stores abandoning the practice altogether.

Is Black Friday good for business?

Some economists argue that Black Friday prevents retailers from selling their goods at full price in the run-up to Christmas. Indeed, even before Black Friday the proximity of Thanksgiving to Christmas had always been contentious for financial reasons, and once it even led to the USA having two Thanksgivings. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, concerned that Thanksgiving celebrations may affect the sales in the lucrative weeks before Christmas, changed the date of Thanksgiving to the second last Thursday of November because the last Thursday of the month was the 30th. But the move was unpopular, so much so that sixteen states ignored his directive and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on the 30th. Franksgiving, as it became to be known, was held on the new date for two years, until the law was changed again to fix Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. In Britain alone, however, Black Friday spending has been forecast to increase by 3.8% year on year, so there is little doubt Black Friday is good for business, but not necessarily for traditional high street retailers.

Cyber Monday

In the early part of the noughties, at about the same time that internet shopping was making a dent in high street sales, it was noticed that there was a flurry of online buying on the Monday after Thanksgiving. This was put down to post-holiday workers taking advantage of high-speed connectivity offered by their respective places of work.

By 2005, the phrase Cyber Monday began to gain in popularity and in 2020 Cyber Monday sales reached $10.8 billion, making it the biggest e-commerce selling day of all time in the USA. In the same period, footfall to brick-and-mortar shops dropped by 42.3% during Cyber Week, with overall sales declining by 23.9%. So, if you’re up for the latest must-have gadget, check out Cyber Monday on 28th November. And if you prefer to fight for one in your local shop the traditional way, the January Sales are only a couple of months away. Good luck.