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Why is Black Friday called Black Friday?

It's a question that rears its predictable head every November, as the Western retail calendar bows to US capitalist dominance and adopts cultural practices that have no context for the rest of us whatsoever

What the heck is Black Friday and why does it sound like a sinister atrocity worthy of a minute's silence? 

Like all good fables (and weeds), its roots are unclear and numerous. 

Let's give them a poke. 

  • Why is Black Friday called Black Friday?

    What exactly is Black Friday?

    The basics.

    Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. As such, most of the US gets two days off work - spending Thursday eating a gratuitous amount of food, and Friday recovering.

    To take advantage of this national food hangover and that nagging feeling you've spent too much time inside with your family, retailers began launching major sales events on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

    This has grown in perpetuity, eventually making its way across the rest of the globe as US chains inspired fear in international competitors who wanted a similar cash spike.

  • Why is Black Friday called Black Friday? 1

    Going 'into the black'

    A tradition that perpetuated the use of the term "Black Friday" amongst retailers arose in the 1980s, as many annual balance books were tipped "into the black" due to the post-Thanksgiving sales. 

    While this might be the source of wider acknowledgement of "Black Friday", it's certainly not the original use of the term.

  • Why is Black Friday called Black Friday? 2

    The traffic jam from hell

    According to police reporter Joseph P Barrett, the term Black Friday emerged from the Philadelphia Police Department's traffic team.

    "The cops used it to describe the worst traffic jams which annually occurred in Center City on the Friday after Thanksgiving," he explained in an article on Philly.com"It was the day that Santa Claus took his chair in the department stores and every kid in the city wanted to see him. It was the first day of the Christmas shopping season."

    In an article he wrote in 1960, Barrett claims he appropriated the term for a front page story for the Evening Bulletin, to describe the awful traffic conditions. Repeated use by local media saw the term gain a new tradition.

    "Today the term seems lost in antiquity, but it was a traffic cop who started it, the guy who directed traffic with a semaphore while standing on a small wooden platform, in the days before traffic lights. But that was a long time ago."

  • Why is Black Friday called Black Friday? 3

    The UK's first Black Friday?

    One of the first mentions of Black Friday sales in the UK was in 2003, at a Currys store at London's Staple Corner. 

    The in-store sale saw laptops and other electronics sold for vast discounts, mirroring the US custom. 

    We imagine the local residents didn't give a toss about Thanksgiving, but were grateful for getting some blank CDs for a bargain discount.

  • Why is Black Friday called Black Friday? 4

    Does it have any links to slavery?

    An apparently common misconception is that the term "Black Friday" and it's position after Thanksgiving is linked to a tradition of the selling off slaves for reduced costs.

    This is total nonsense. Should you ever overhear someone attempting to claim that the above is factual, give them a ticking off and tell them to read this article. 

    The very notion that this could not only be considered as a valid reason for it's name, and that we would still refer to it as this even now paints an incredibly bleak picture of humanity.