What is the History of Black Friday?

This Friday marks Black Friday, and tonight is when it all begins; the manic, the crazed bargain hunters, the unrefined consumerism. Black Friday will see the everyday Joe engulfed in a shopping frenzy, displaying unapologetic purchasing power.

Many wonder, however, what is the significance of this day? Why is it called ‘Black Friday’? Why do we see such enticing deals an entire month prior to the boxing day sales? Why all of a sudden the UK has fed into this retail haven?

Myths and Urban Legends

The array of urban legends, historical myths and corporate drivers of the day we find some of the best deals in the year is gaining increased traction through both an increase in millennial consumers and the dissemination of either knowledge or propaganda via social media.

Let us dispel some of these myths through enlightenment on the history of this consumer orientated, corporate fuelled, increasingly popular sales event.

Social Media has disseminated the understanding that the origins of Black Friday date back to the 1700’s, as a day when slaves were sold at a discounted price. This claim, shared by many celebrities, has called for a boycott of Black Friday itself.

In reality, however, the first documented use of the phrase ‘Black Friday’ was used long after the slave trade was abolished in America – though this hasn’t prevented the slavery rumour from circulating each year.

The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied not to holiday shopping but to financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869.

Two notoriously ruthless Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits. On that Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unravelled, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.

Some people think it’s called Black Friday because everyone calls in sick to work to take advantage of the sales, making it a bad day for employers.

One company in America claim to have coined the term back in 1951 after writing it in a Factory Management and Maintenance newsletter: “‘Friday-after-Thanksgiving-itis’ is a disease second only to the bubonic plague in its effects.

It may or may not be true that sudden sickies increase on Black Friday, but, ultimately, it’s not where the mainstream use of the name originates from.

Others believe it’s called Black Friday because it’s a great day for retailers because it tends to be the day in the year that merchants becomes profitable, or when their accounts move out of the red and into the black.

A similar myth simply refers to the gains that retailers stand to make on the day of Black Friday itself, as bargain-hungry consumers storm their stores. In the days of paper and pens, profits would be written in black ink, while losses would be penned in red.

The Real History

The true story behind Black Friday, however, is not as sunny as retailers might have you believe. 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 would Philadelphia police not be able to take the day off, but they would have to work extra-long shifts dealing with the additional crowds and traffic. Shoplifters would also take advantage of the bedlam in stores to make off with merchandise, adding to the law enforcement headache.

By 1961, “Black Friday” had caught on in Philadelphia, to the extent that the city’s merchants and boosters tried unsuccessfully to change it to “Big Friday” in order to remove the negative connotations.

The term didn’t spread to the rest of the country until much later, however, and as recently as 1985 it wasn’t in common use nationwide. Sometime in the late 1980s, however, retailers found a way to reinvent Black Friday and turn it into something that reflected positively, rather than negatively, on them and their customers. The result was the “red to black” concept of the holiday mentioned earlier, and the notion that the day after Thanksgiving marked the occasion when America’s stores finally turned a profit.

The Black Friday story stuck, and pretty soon the term’s darker roots in Philadelphia were largely forgotten. Since then, 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.

In the UK, the holiday of thanksgiving is not celebrated, but the concept of consumerism appears universal. The American influence on British culture, specifically retail culture, is increasingly evident, hence the use of the term ‘Black Friday’.

Whether or not you intend on indulging in this consumerist haven, the real roots of Black Friday highlight how the use of one term, in one society, has the ability to disseminate across the Atlantic, and even the world.

Refrain from Overindulgence

Remember, everyone loves a bargain, but to overindulge is dangerous and wasteful. Given the current climate of poverty both in the UK and globally, don’t simply walk past the homeless man on your way to the shopping centre, buy him a coffee or a sandwich.

The Prophetic and Quranic emphasis on Zakat and refraining from overindulgence and materialism must be adhered to given the context of consumerist and capitalist .

Ibn ‘Abbas told Ibn az-Zubayr, “I heard the Prophet (SAW), say, ‘A man is not a believer who fills his stomach while his neighbour is hungry.’” [Al-Adab al-Mufrad Al-Bukhari, #112]

For the sharing of wealth is an important concept in Islam, let us give what we can.

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