Have you ever wondered why Black Friday is “Black”?

Every year, the day after Thanksgiving is “Black Friday” in the US. Have you ever wondered why Black Friday is black? Black is a color of many meanings, after all. So just which one applies here?

Black Friday is so named because it’s the day that many stores can finally “catch up” financially. In accounting, operating “in the red”* means operating at a loss, and operating “in the black” means operating in balance, or solvent. When a store is “in the black”, its debts are repayable. Hopefully, there’s even a profit being made.

TRIVIA SIDEBAR: When the Avengers’ Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johansson) says she “has a lot of red in her ledger” she’s also using an accounting metaphor. She saying that she used to be evil and did lots of bad things. As an Avenger, she’s trying to change that. She’s got a lot of catching up to do to make up for all the evil she’s done in her past. She’s trying to balance her karma and it could take the rest of her life to do it.

Back to Black Friday… It seems like the sales keep starting earlier and earlier in the day, some even start Thanksgiving night. Some diehard shoppers camp out overnight at electronics or suburban department stores to be first in line at the store’s opening to get the best deals. A worker at Walmart was even trampled to death on Black Friday in 2008. In recent years, cartoons and young family movies have started to debut at the cinema on Thanksgiving Day, too.

Black Friday is a 20th century development in the US. It has its origins with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924. The parade winds its way around blocks of New York City from 9am-12noon on Thanksgiving morning. The point of the parade was to be a dazzling spectacle, entertaining people first, then leading them straight to Macy’s to start their Christmas shopping. The parade ends with someone dressed as Santa in his sleigh.

Over the years, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has gotten bigger and bigger, and promotion for more than Macy’s has become part of the show.

  • Broadway features a handful of musical numbers to promote its newest shows before the parade, usually kid-friendly songs.
  • NBC promotes its shows via actors stopping to say “hi!” to the parade’s anchors; other networks do the same thing.
  • The parade anchors are hosts of a network’s daily morning news or other personalities
  • The balloons and floats in the parade feature popular children’s cartoon or gaming characters.
  • Sometimes the floats feature singers, most of them cater to the 15 (and under) age group, but some appeal to the parents and grandparents in the crowd as well. For instance, I recall (the late) Andy Williams being a part of the parade for several years when I was younger, now James Taylor and 1970s-1980s artists fit that bill. Typically all the artists performing at the Macy’s parade have an album out, or coming out very soon. Watching the parade on television was a Thanksgiving tradition in our house.
  • On a less commercial note, high school bands and cheerleading troupes from all over the US are also a part of the parade. It’s a once in a lifetime trip that is surely exciting for all involved.

With the arrival of online shopping, Cyber Monday arrived around 2005. It’s the Monday following Thanksgiving, and stores like Amazon offer amazing deals. Shoppers stay at home and shop from their screen. The crowds and the traffic are virtual. No trampling stampedes or wrestling over Cabbage Patch dolls here.

Whatever you do Black Friday, stay safe. Remember focused (silent, facedown phone) time with the most important people in your life is the best gift of all. It can’t be bought, it’s given, and it’s not forgotten.

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