Ten things you didn't know about Black Friday

Black Friday explained - in 60 seconds

Related Stories

Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year in the biggest economy in the world.

Full from their Thanksgiving feasts, millions of US shoppers descend on stores across the country on the Friday after the holiday, hoping to save on their Christmas shopping.

But as ever more promotions proliferate - add Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday to the shopping calendar - the question remains: Just what is Black Friday anyway?

Here are 10 surprising facts about America's unofficial paean to all things commercial.

1. "Black Friday" used to refer to stock market crashes in the 1800s.

Although it is now known as the biggest shopping day in the US, the term "Black Friday" originally referred to very different events.

"Black for centuries has been used for various calamities," says linguist Benjamin Zimmer, executive editor of Vocabulary.com.

Black Friday chalkboard with gold prices A chalkboard shows the prices of gold on "Black Friday", which reached a high not surpassed for 100 years

In the US, the first time the term was used was on 24 September 1869, when two speculators, Jay Gould and James Fisk, tried to corner the gold market on the New York Stock Exchange.

When the government stepped in to correct the distortion by flooding the market with gold, prices plummeted and many investors lost sizable fortunes.

Macy's float Macy's parades began in 1924 and featured store employees
2. "Santa Claus parades" were Black Friday's predecessor.

For many Americans, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade has become part of the holiday ritual.

But the event actually was inspired from the US's neighbours in the north. Canadian department store Eaton's held the first "Santa Claus parade" on 2 December 1905. Once Santa appeared at the end of the parade, the signal was that the holiday season - and thus, holiday shopping, had begun. Of course, consumers were encouraged to buy their presents at Eaton's.

US department stores such as Macy's took inspiration from the parade, and started sponsoring similar efforts across the country. In 1924, New York saw the first Macy's parade featuring animals from Central Park Zoo and run by the store's employees.

3. The date of Thanksgiving was, indirectly, determined by holiday shoppers.

From the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, in a custom started by US President Abraham Lincoln, the president would declare a "day of thanks giving" on the last Thursday in November. This could either fall on the fourth or fifth Thursday in the month.

But in 1939, a funny thing happened - the last Thursday happened to be the last day in November. Retailers, worried about the shortened holiday shopping season, petitioned then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to declare the holiday a week earlier - which he did.

For the next three years, Thanksgiving was known derisively as "Franksgiving" and celebrated on different days in different parts of the country.

Finally, at the end of 1941, a joint resolution from Congress cleared up the matter. From then on, Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November - guaranteeing an extra week of shopping before Christmas.

Western Union telegraph protesting Thanksgiving change Mr Roosevelt received a barrage of messages protesting his capitulation to the will of retailers
4. 'Friday-after-Thanksgiving-itis'

According to Bonnie Taylor-Blake, a researcher at the University of North Carolina, Factory Management and Maintenance - a labour market newsletter - lays claim to the first use of the term as it relates to the holiday.

In 1951 the circular drew attention to the suspiciously high level of sickness that day.

"'Friday-after-Thanksgiving-itis' is a disease second only to the bubonic plague in its effects. At least that's the feeling of those who have to get production out, when Black Friday comes along. The shop may be half empty, but every absentee was sick - and can prove it," reads the circular.

5. Big Friday?
New York Times report from 1975 A New York Times report from 1975 locates the phrase "Black Friday" as a bit of Philadelphia slang

The city that first popularised the term was Philadelphia. Police officers, frustrated by the congestion caused by shoppers on the day, started referring to it derisively as "Black Friday".

Unsurprisingly, retailers weren't happy to be associated with traffic and smog.

So they tried to rebrand the day "Big Friday", according to a 1961 local Philadelphia paper.

Needless to say, the term didn't stick.

6. "Black Friday" didn't become a national term until the 1990s.

The phrase 'Black Friday' remained a Philadelphia quirk for a surprisingly long time.

"You see it spreading a little bit to Trenton, New Jersey, which is close by, but it doesn't really start getting mentioned outside of Philadelphia until the 1980s," says Mr Zimmer.

"It didn't become widespread until the mid-90s."

7. Some say Black Friday refers to "going into the black".

Retailers tried to put a positive spin on the "black" bit of the term by saying it was when retailers became profitable, or as the saying goes "went into the black". However, there is no evidence to back this claim up.

It is true that holiday sales make up the bulk of consumer spending for the year.

Last year, shoppers on Black Friday spent an estimated $59.1bn, according to the National Retail Federation. But how much of that is profit isn't clear - given how retailers vie with each other to offer bigger incentives and discounts.

8. Black Friday became the biggest shopping day of the year in 2001.

Although it's often touted as the biggest shopping day of the year, the day didn't earn the designation consistently until the 2000s.

That's because, for many years, the rule wasn't that Americans loved deals, it was that they loved procrastinating. So up until that point, it was the Saturday before Christmas that typically saw the most wallets being emptied.

Samira Hussain looks at how people are spending their cash on Black Friday

9. Black Friday has become an international affair.

Canadian retailers have long winced as their customers went south on Black Friday in search of better shopping deals. So now they've begun offering their own sales - despite the fact that Canadian Thanksgiving is a full month earlier.

In Mexico, there is El Buen Fin, which roughly translates as "the good weekend". It's pegged to the anniversary of Mexico's 1910 revolution, which sometimes falls on the same day American Thanksgiving. It lasts, as the name suggests, the entire weekend.

Beyond North America, as online shopping has grown, retailers like Amazon have looked to Cyber Monday, first heard of in 2005, to promote deals for shoppers across the globe. While in China, the recently launched 'Singles Day' prompted sales of two million bras in one hour, making a pile that would be three times higher than Mount Everest.

10. Black Friday is becoming extinct.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, broke the Black Friday tradition in 2011, when it opened its store on Thanksgiving evening. Ever since, retailers have been in a race to catch up and now, 33 million Americans said they planned to shop immediately after turkey.

But don't worry - this time, retailers have come up with a name themselves: "Grey Thursday".

More on This Story

Related Stories

More Business stories

RSS

Business Live

  1.  
    13:28: Tuition fees BBC Radio 4
    Protesting students

    Paul Johnson of the IFS also explained that higher paid graduates would be the beneficiaries of Labour's proposed policy: "There is a small help there for poorer students, through an increase in the maintenance grant, but the £3bn a year reduction in the cost of student loans actually doesn't help the poorer half of graduates," he said. "Half of graduates will not be earning enough to be paying back any less under the Labour policy than the current policy, so the group to whom the £3bn is going are the higher earning half of graduates."

     
  2.  
    13:18: Tuition fees BBC Radio 4

    Labour says it will cut student fees, and pay for it by curtailing the tax relief on pension contributions made by the higher paid. Paul Johnson, of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), tells the World at One that this was very clearly a tax increase for some. "The top 1% of income tax payers will be affected most - it won't affect many people, but it will affect them a lot."

     
  3.  
    13:15: TalkTalk hack
    Memory chips

    Are you a TalkTalk customer? You should receive an email warning you that scammers have managed to steal account numbers and names from the company's computers. TalkTalk said the scammers had used the stolen data to trick people into handing over banking details.

     
  4.  
    13:11: Greece bailout

    The eurozone has formally agreed to extend Greece's bailout by four months. The European Financial Stability Facility (the eurozone bailout fund) said: "Following this decision, €1.8bn that is still available under the MFFA [the loan agreement] can be disbursed to Greece until 30 June 2015."

     
  5.  
    12:58: Greek economy shrinks
    Attalos arcade in Athens

    Greece's economy shrank by 0.4% in last quarter of 2014 compared with the previous quarter, the official Elstat statistics service has said. The figure has been revised from a first estimate, earlier this month, of a 0.2% shrinkage. That means the Greek economy grew by 1.2% in the past year.

     
  6.  
    12:50: Platinum mining tax
    Chris Griffith

    Business Update on World Service with Russell Padmore has reported on why the world's big mining companies are at loggerheads with the government of Zimbabwe over a new 15% tax on exports of platinum. Impala Platinum is considering closing its Mimosa mine, a joint venture with Aquarius, because the tax could make the operation unprofitable. Chris Griffith, the chief executive of Anglo-American Platinum says: "We continue to engage with the government of Zimbabwe and we are hoping we can turn this around." Listen to Business Update on audioboom.

     
  7.  
    12:39: Greece bailout
    Yanis Varoufakis

    The Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has given this assessment of the latest eurozone deal (which has been approved by the German parliament) to Antenna TV in Greece. "The deal was a fig leaf to conclude the eurogroup and dispense with the fiscal agreement," he said. "We are proud of the level of vagueness," he added. Apparently this vagueness was deliberate "otherwise it would not be approved by parliaments."

     
  8.  
    12:28: Pension changes
    Calculator

    What sort of things does the FCA want pension firms to warn their customers about, when those people think of using their pension pots? Among the issues are the health of the customer, any tax implications of the customer's decision, the effects (if any) on their means-tested benefits, and the possibility that the customer might fall prey to an investment scam.

     
  9.  
    Via Twitter Robert Peston BBC economics editor

    tweets: Labour to cut maximum pension pots, annual contributions & tax relief for £150k+ earners to cover £3.1bn cost of student fee cut

     
  10.  
    12:08: Pension changes

    From 6 April people will have much more freedom to do as they wish with their accumulated pension savings. Now the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has told firms in the pension "industry" that they must give their customers personal risk warnings, tailored to each individual, when people retire.

     
  11.  
    11:46: Via Twitter Duncan Weldon Economics correspondent, BBC Newsnight

    tweets: Disposable income per person by region. Can't look at this without thinking: 'the Rhine is kinda important'.

    Europe
     
  12.  
    11:34: House prices
    Image of ONS website

    Want to know how much homes cost in your neck of the woods? The ONS (Office for National Statistics) has recently published this interactive map of house prices for very small areas in England and Wales. You can play with it to your heart's content.

     
  13.  
    11:24: Stamp prices

    They are going to cost more. First and second class stamps will go up by 1p, to 63p and 54p respectively. It happens on 30 March. Large letters will also cost more too. First class ones will be 2p more expensive at 95p and second class ones will cost 1p more at 74p.

    Stamps
     
  14.  
    11:10: Glasgow Rangers
    Rangers fans

    This is embarrassing for the very troubled football club. It has just issued an announcement to stock market investors clarifying no fewer than six previous announcements. Most relate to the stewardship of Newcastle United by Derek Llambias, who is now running Rangers.

     
  15.  
    11:01: Via Twitter Dave Lee BBC technology reporter

    tweets: TalkTalk confirms customer account data stolen; Taking legal action against third-party it says was weak link

     
  16.  
    10:56: Greece bailout

    Andreas Scheuer, a senior conservative who backed extending the current bailout, said that "everyone has a feeling that isn't just positive." He said: "We will have to rely on the Greek government delivering now," adding that "this is one of the last chances we are giving Greece."

     
  17.  
    10:50: House prices
    Homes in Newcastle

    Delving into the Land Registry stats is a fascinating exercise. Average house prices in London hit a peak last August at £462,000, and have been hovering a bit below that point ever since. By contrast, the average home in the north east of England (the cheapest area) costs just £100,000.

     
  18.  
    10:40: Greece bailout
    German Finance Minister Schaeuble

    German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said: "We have to bring Greece into a situation that finance markets trust them again, and that Greece can act without any support, on its own again. It is called competitiveness. And for Greece, there is a longer road to go than for any other European country."

     
  19.  
    10:32: Greece bailout
    German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble addresses a session of the Bundestag

    The German parliament has voted 542-32 to back Greece's bailout extension.

     
  20.  
    10:29: Via Twitter Gavin Hewitt BBC Europe editor

    tweets: As expected the German Parliament supports the extension of the Greece bail-out. #Greece

     
  21.  
    10:25: Ferries
    Ferry

    Meanwhile, we're sure you're very keen to hear about ferries. Industry body Discover Ferries has said one million more people travelled on ferries in Britain in 2014, up from around 38 million in 2013.

     
  22.  
    10:02: British Gas price cut
    British Gas van

    British Gas is cutting its gas prices by 5% today, as announced in January. Competitor E.On was the first of the big six energy suppliers to announce a price reduction in January, which it did with immediate effect, with price cuts in the month rounded off by EDF.

     
  23.  
    09:50: Lloyds Banking Group
    Michael Hewson

    Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, says he sees the glass as being "half full" rather than "half empty" for Lloyds. The dividend of 0.75p per share was slightly less than expected - the markets were expecting a penny, he says. And PPI is an "ongoing sore" for the firm. Yet "the direction of travel does appear to be fairly positive", he says. "Loan growth is up 17% year-on-year, and impairments are down."

     
  24.  
    09:42: House prices
    For Sale sign

    The latest figures from the Land Registry represent a continued slowdown in the annual rate of house price inflation. That rate was 7% in December, and January's figure is the fifth monthly decline in a row.

     
  25.  
    09:32: House prices
    For Sale signs

    The Land Registry (for England & Wales) says house prices saw an annual price increase of 6.7%, with prices up 1.3% since December. That left the average house price at £179,492.

     
  26.  
    09:27: Lloyds Banking Group

    Is anyone worth £11m, Mr Horta-Osorio is asked? "It is not up to me to judge that, I think it is important to focus on pay for performance," he replies. "It is the fact that the share price tripled in these three years, that's what makes the [incentive] plan have a much higher value," he explains.

     
  27.  
    09:21: Cash Isa

    Who is offering the best short-term cash Isa at the moment? According to the website Savers Friend it is the Yorkshire bank, paying 2.1% for its fixed-rate, two-year, Isa.

     
  28.  
    09:09: Lloyds Banking Group
    Antonio Horta-Osorio

    Mr Antonio Horta-Osorio says he is "really pleased" his bank has resumed dividend payments: "We went from a very, very negative position in terms of profitability to a position where we generated £7.8bn of underlying profitability, [and] we generated £1.8bn of pre-tax profit," he tells BBC business editor Kamal Ahmed.

     
  29.  
    09:00: Rightmove
    Houses

    It's fascinating to see just how much money you can make running a website that dominates its market. Rightmove's total income for the year was £167m. Of that £96m went to the company as after-tax profit. No wonder the recently launched Onthemarket.com wants to have some of that business.

     
  30.  
    08:50: IAG - Aer Lingus
    Aer Lingus plane tailfins

    On the potential IAG takeover of Aer Lingus, IAG chief executive Willie Walsh tells BBC News that the firm doesn't foresee "many if any competition issues" from the EU competition commission. "We remain very excited about an acquisition. We think Aer Lingus is a good company, and we think Aer Lingus can be a significantly better company as part of IAG," he says.

     
  31.  
    08:40: FTSE 100 market update
    FTSE 100

    The FTSE 100 has opened up slightly, gaining 2 points to stand at 6952. It's not a shock to see that IAG, which saw operating profits nearly double in 2014, has risen over 4%, while shares in engineering firm Meggitt moved downward, falling 1.72%.

     
  32.  
    08:39: William Hill
    Gambling machine

    Annual pre-tax profits fell at the betting business; down 9% to £234m. Shareholders still received a rise in their dividends though, up 5%.

     
  33.  
    08:20: Rightmove
    Houses

    The property website is yet another business rewarding its investors handsomely. Shareholders' dividends will rise by 25% on the back of a 26% rise in pre-tax profits to £122m.

     
  34.  
    08:04: IAG - Willie Walsh BBC News Channel
    Willie Walsh

    IAG chief executive Willie Walsh points out the turnaround in Spanish airline Iberia, which was a drag on IAG from 2011 until the summer. "These are fantastic results, particularly the performance in Iberia, which I think has been a concern for a lot of people over the past few years", he tells BBC News. Iberia made an operating profit of €50m in 2014 compared to an operating loss of €166m the year before.

     
  35.  
    07:48: Lloyds Banking Group

    The bank has now written to owners of 2.7 million past PPI policies inviting them to lodge a claim. That is one reason why it is expecting a further 600,000 fresh claims this coming year.

     
  36.  
    07:42: Lloyds Banking Group
    Lloyds logo

    How much in total has the PPI scandal cost the bank in the past few years? An truly extraordinary £12bn. Not all of that is compensation. The administrative costs of sorting out the payments have been expensive too.

     
  37.  
    07:30: IAG results
    British Airways planes

    IAG raised its 2015 profit forecast by over 20% to 2.2bn euros for 2015, compared to the 1.8 billion euros it had said it was targeting. It says it has been helped by lower fuel costs. It expects to increase its capacity as well.

     
  38.  
    07:27: Lloyds Banking Group

    The bank has had to set aside another £2.2bn to cover the continued cost of repaying customers who were mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI). That was on top of the £3.1bn the year before.

     
  39.  
    07:21: Lloyds Banking Group
    Antonio Horta-Osorio

    The massive payment to chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio includes £1m in basic pay and an £800,000 bonus. The rest of the £11m comes from the payout of a "long term incentive plan" which gives him shares in the bank as a reward for steering it out of near insolvency.

     
  40.  
    07:19: IAG results

    Meanwhile, IAG's operating profit for the year to 31 December 2014 is £1.03bn, a 95.3% jump on the previous year.

     
  41.  
    07:15: Via Twitter Kamal Ahmed BBC business editor

    tweets: Breaking: Lloyds CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio total remuneration package will total £11m after shares rise by 193% since 2012.

     
  42.  
    07:10: IAG results

    British Airways owner IAG made a profit before tax from continuing operations of £828m, it says.

     
  43.  
    07:06: Lloyds Banking Group

    The dividend will be 0.75p per share, totalling £535m, which will go to three million shareholders. And that means £130m goes to the government.

     
  44.  
    07:02: Lloyds Banking Group

    The annual results are out. It has announced pre-tax profits of £1.8bn - up from £415m a year ago - and will indeed resume paying a dividend to shareholders.

     
  45.  
    06:50: Lloyds Banking Group BBC Radio 4

    William Wright of capital markets think-tank New Financial tells the Today programme that it was turning out to be a turbulent week for banks: "We've seen continued tax scandals at HSBC, continued restructuring at RBS, all change at the top of Standard Chartered - next week no doubt with Barclays we are going to see more restructuring."

     
  46.  
    06:41: Rising rents
    Houses

    Demand for rental properties is still driving up rents in the private sector. So says Sequence, a network of 300 letting agencies. It reckons that the average monthly rent outside London rose by 5% in the past year - and in London by 7%. "Large cities in particular are seeing a lot of activity as employment increases," it says.

     
  47.  
    06:28: Lloyds Banking Group Radio 5 live
    Lloyds Bank bank branch

    Lloyds is expected to announce profits of around £2bn, but banking analyst Alex Potter tells Wake Up to Money that the dividend resuming is the real indicator for a return to health. "Actually, an awful lot of [investment] funds haven't been able to buy Lloyds shares at all while they haven't been paying a dividend, so, actually just the allowance of those potential shareholders onto the [share] register again is going to be a pretty good thing."

     
  48.  
    06:19: Pension tax relief

    Will Labour suggest cutting pension tax relief for high earners? It seems this may be proposed by Ed Miliband when he speaks later today on how Labour might cut university tuition fees.

     
  49.  
    06:09: IAG results Radio 5 live
    British Airways plane

    We should look forward to hearing strong results for British Airways owner IAG, according to aviation consultant John Strickland. "We should expect to hear a big jump in profitability", he says on Wake up to Money, because the firm is "in a very solid state".

     
  50.  
    06:00: Ian Pollock Business reporter, BBC News

    Good morning. It's Friday. Always a good day as far as I'm concerned. Oh, and the Land Registry's house price figures for England and Wales will be out later this morning.

     
  51.  
    06:00: Good morning Tom Espiner Business reporter

    Some interesting stories coming up today. Expect full year results from Lloyds Banking Group, which is expected to resume paying a dividend to shareholders for the first time since the financial crisis in 2008. British Airways owner IAG is to post its full year results too.

     

Features

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.