Black Friday: A holiday tradition with dark roots

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The holiday known as Black Friday serves as the end to Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. However, despite the holiday tradition and celebrations now associated with Black Friday, it is important to learn the dark aspect of it.

Today when you think of Black Friday, you may be excited because of shopping and snagging great deals or because it is an extra day off work or school. While Black Friday is celebrated widely during the holiday shopping season, it was actually born out of financial crisis namely the crash of the United States gold market on Friday, September 24, 1869.

Two Wall Street financiers by the names of Jay Gould and Jim Fisk had worked together to purchase as much of the nation’s gold as possible. Gould and Fisk hoped that this would sky-rocket the price of gold and then they could sell it for a staggering profit. “On that Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unraveled, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers,” as noted by History.com.

“The most commonly repeated story behind the Thanksgiving shopping-related Black Friday tradition links it to retailers. As the story goes, after an entire year of operating at a loss (“in the red”) stores would supposedly earn a profit (“went into the black”) on the day after Thanksgiving, because holiday shoppers blew so much money on discounted merchandise. Though it’s true that retail companies used to record losses in red and profits in black when doing their accounting, this version of Black Friday’s origin is the officially sanctioned—but inaccurate—story behind the tradition,” said History.com.

There is also another myth that claims that back in the 1800s Southern plantation owners could buy enslaved workers at a discount the day after Thanksgiving. History.com noted, “Though this version of Black Friday’s roots has understandably led some to call for a boycott of the retail holiday, it has no basis in fact.”

The important lesson here is that the real history of Black Friday is not as joyful as many retailers may display. Documentation obtained from history.com shared that “Back in the 1950s, police in the city of Philadelphia used the term to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving, when hordes of suburban shoppers and tourists flooded into the city in advance of the big Army-Navy football game held on that Saturday every year. Not only were Philly cops not able to take the day off, but they had to work extra-long shifts dealing with the additional crowds and traffic. Shoplifters also took advantage of the bedlam in stores and made off with merchandise, adding to the law enforcement headache.”

By the year 1961, the term Black Friday had caught on in Philadelphia. Merchants tried to remove the negativity association with Black Friday by changing it to Big Friday. The change was unsuccessful. Black Friday did not actually become widely used until the 1980’s. Retailers reinvented Black Friday by turning it into a positive experience for both them and their customers. Following the reinvention of Black Friday, it actually became more about the “red to black” concept as noted earlier. Thus, Black Friday become known as the occasion in which retailers made a profit.

Although Black Friday has some dark history, it has been largely forgotten. History.com said, the one-day sales bonanza has morphed into a four-day event and spawned other “retail holidays” such as Small Business Saturday/Sunday and Cyber Monday. Stores started opening earlier and earlier on that Friday and now the most dedicated shoppers can head out right after their Thanksgiving meal.”

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