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Behind the Scenes of Black Friday

It’s 3:00 AM. Seven alarms have gone off. It’s pitch-black outside. And stores have lines stretching around the block.

     Photo: Robert Stromberg

 

Photo: Robert Stromberg

Welcome to Black Friday! While this infamous shopping holiday originated in the United States as the first day of the holiday shopping season, Black Friday has become a worldwide phenomenon. Taking place on the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday is widely considered to now be the biggest shopping day of the year, with consumers spending as much as $50 billion in only that weekend.

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The name “Black Friday” gained traction in the past fifteen years, despite the origins of this term having become obscured. There are several popular theories about how this phrase came to be. One theory points out that the Philadelphia police department has been calling the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday” since the 1960s: as the American public rushes downtown to see Santa Claus at shopping centers and to buy the first Christmas gifts of the season, police officers have spent the day controlling crowds and terrible traffic. As a result, the police forced used “Black Friday” as a term to refer to this notorious day.

  Photo: James Barrett

Photo: James Barrett

Others believe the name comes from idiomatic phrases used in retail: “in the red” and “in the black.” The phrase “in the red” refers to financial losses of a business, while the phrase “in the black” refers to the financial gains. Since retailers profited so much from the Friday after Thanksgiving, corporations began calling this day “Black Friday.”

No matter how the name originated, if you have ever gone Black Friday shopping, you probably have wild stories to tell. One shopper we talked to, Kelly from North Carolina, was once out on Black Friday with her mom, sitting in the car, ready to leave a store’s parking lot. As they were about to leave the parking spot, a man and his daughter walked up: “Leave this parking spot or I’ll key your car.” Needless to say, Kelly and her mom left pretty quickly after that!

  Photo: Boston Herald

Photo: Boston Herald

Other shoppers enjoy drinking coffee and staying up all night in order to be the first in line, hours before the stores open. As companies saw an opportunity to make this day last even longer, in recent years, some department stores and superstores have controversially started opening even earlier. These stores open their doors on the day of Thanksgiving, which many now refer to as “Black Thursday.” This maneuver has been polarizing, since now many employees have to leave their families in favor of working on this national holiday.

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Luckily, if you’re like many of us who want to avoid the crowds, Cyber Monday is the move. “Cyber Monday” is a marketing term coined in 2005 to refer to the online shopping deals that take place on the Monday after Thanksgiving. In 2006, online shoppers spent over $600 million, while only four years later, the amount of money spent while shopping on this holiday surpassed $1 billion. Whether you prefer the calm of browsing online while sipping your favorite cup of tea or the excitement of shopping in store, this holiday weekend was made for bargain-hunters everywhere.


Vocabulary

  1. Black Friday: A shopping holiday originating in the United States on the day after Thanksgiving

  2. In the red: Refers to financial losses of a business

  3. In the black: Refers to the financial gains of a business

  4. To key (one’s) car: Refers to the act of dragging your key along the side of the car of someone you are mad at or hate

  5. Cyber Monday: The online shopping day that takes place the Monday after Thanksgiving

  6. The move: Refers to the next or best goal, plan, or thing to do

  7. To coin: To invent or come up with (a new word or phrase)

 


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anna Deen is a student at Washington University in St. Louis studying English Literature, American Culture Studies, and Communication Design. In her free time, she enjoys hiking in the mountains, going to art museums, and eating ice cream.

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