Why Are Sales Days Called Black Friday?

Black Friday

Today, a number of retail chains are trying to have Christmas in July by offering massive sales. The media has labeled this a second Black Friday, referring to the Friday after Thanksgiving when stores traditionally offer deep discounts.

When you stop to think about it, the use of black to describe a massive shopping day contradicts the history of other “black” days. In fact, Black Friday originally refered to Sept 24, 1869, when the collapse of a gold speculation plan took the stock market down. Black Monday is known as “the most notorious day in financial history (Oct 19, 1987.)” Yes, there is also a Black Tuesday, and a  Black Thursday. None of these are exactly occasions for top hats, garter belts, or mimosas.

So where did the lucrative connotation of Black Friday come from? Like so many word conundrums, there isn’t a definitive answer. Two possibilities exist:

In Philadelphia, where the sales originated, police deemed the retail event Black Friday because the amount of traffic was a black spot on their holiday weekend. The more popular explanation has to do with the colors of ink accountants traditionally used for noting profit and loss. A company “in the red” is recording loss, red ink being the traditional color for noting negative finances. “In the black” means just the opposite; thus the notion that Black Friday will force those bookkeepers to put away the red ink, and get out the black.


  1. Pradeep -  March 25, 2014 - 7:49 am

    Yeah now I know, in the movie The greatest show on earth the guy keeps saying as long as we are in the black.

  2. Sthi-Bash -  December 20, 2013 - 2:20 am

    After reading this article my mind went black…

  3. Rebecca -  December 17, 2013 - 8:21 pm

    Why should we call it ” Black Friday”? Are we being rude by saying that? Well I know one thing for sure is I hear how bad it get, running people over for something stupid that we are mostly going to throw away. We get really crazy when it comes to Black Friday. You will never believe how stupid it is. We get into fights for what? Nothing that we need, now if it’s what we need the yes fight why fight if we don’t have to.

  4. Bob6431 -  December 3, 2013 - 8:32 am

    I didn’t do any Black Friday shopping at all but I went shopping on Thanksgiving and everthing was closed.

  5. Bob6431 -  December 3, 2013 - 8:31 am

    It was Christmas Eve. A woman came home to her husband after a day of busy shopping. Later on that night when she was getting undressed for bed, he noticed a mark on the inside of her leg. “What is that?” he asked. She said, “I visited the tattoo parlor today. On the inside of one leg I had them tattoo ‘Merry Christmas,’ and on the inside of the other one they tattooed ‘Happy New Year.’” Perplexed, he asked, “Why did you do that?” “Well,” she replied, “now you can’t complain that there’s never anything to eat between Christmas and New Years!”

  6. El Swaggor -  December 1, 2013 - 1:43 pm

    Luckily our history teacher told us about this! :)

  7. Michelle -  December 1, 2013 - 5:37 am

    In my own personal life certain dates of particular misfortune I referr to them as ‘black’. And everyone I know who works retail uses the term Black Friday in a negative way because its the worse day of the year for them to work. I believe it was coined by retail workers and then some advertising agency was smart enough to turn it from a negative conotation to a marketing scheme. Which worked for a while but people are seeing it more and more in a negative way.

  8. Rainbow -  December 1, 2013 - 3:30 am


  9. NaivePhilosopher -  November 30, 2013 - 5:54 pm

    I’d heard that the name came from the fact that companies operate on debt throughout the year. The revenue generated from the massive sales starts the ascent from the “black” debt zone (really bad) to the “red” debt zone (all clear). That’s just what I’ve heard any way.

  10. Emily -  November 30, 2013 - 3:20 pm

    So if that’s called Black Friday… Why is the 13th of December so dangerous? If you refer to Friday the 13th… Is it because deaths happen on those days?

  11. Robyn Youl -  November 30, 2013 - 9:17 am

    To Australians, Black Friday was the horrendous Friday 13th January 1939 when it appeared the whole state of Victoria was alight during one of our worst bushfires. ‘Black’ days in Australian vocabulary refers to particulary devastating bushfires. Strange how the same word has different connotations for different cultures. It would be disrespectful to tag a ‘Black Friday’ shopping spree.
    Robyn Youl

  12. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  November 30, 2013 - 6:57 am

    I thought Black Friday would be something bad, and wondered why they would have huge sales on that day. My dad told me the “black ink” explanation.

  13. Amenyamen -  November 30, 2013 - 6:38 am

    Preceded by Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.A., it is ironic there are no greeting cards sold inscribed inside with “happy Black Friday… I want your money” to blot out red ink… putting Friday in the Black. So why not call it is Blot Red Ink Friday, or Blotter Friday?
    Black spots of traffic or Blotting red ink- screw that.
    Stay at home and enjoy what America needs most (Family time) and left over turkey or ham, unless you are working and not at a store participating in Black Friday, that has been blotted out by Corporate greed, whose SOB’s may as well call it Advent Friday, to get to your pocket book.
    Pity the morons who think that shopping on Black Friday has to supercede Family time, and will be back on Saturday, and on Sunday to return them goods they bought because they never had the ability to buy and pay for, other then creating the hot zone of CO2 emissions by their auto commutes.
    How about calling it Far From The Maddening Crowd- Friday, and say hello to a great author T.Hardy, with a trip to the Library earlier in the week.

  14. Austin -  November 29, 2013 - 3:56 pm

    I read something about “Black Friday” in my APUSH book during the Reconstruction. I feel like it has something to do with it, since it also involves business, marketing, and deflation of prices.

  15. Bill -  November 29, 2013 - 1:47 pm

    Well, the day isn’t as profitable as you might think. When I was at Best Buy, our revenue (sales) for the day usually ran around $1,000,000 for the store, but we expected to lose between $50,000 and $100,000.

    But when I suggested to management that we just close the doors and keep the $50,000 in our pocket, they just laughed . . .

  16. hip hop -  April 20, 2012 - 5:05 am

    The title of Kims’ album

  17. Black Friday, doorbuster « Lex maniac -  November 23, 2011 - 2:23 pm

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  18. Miles -  November 28, 2010 - 7:01 pm

    Yeah, I always thought it was strange to call it “Black Friday”. Black is a word usually reserved for bad things — Black Plague, Black Bart, etc.

    Like Anna, I figured it was a reference to the unpleasant crowds and traffic associated with that day.

  19. Black Friday -  July 23, 2010 - 4:31 pm

    It’s called Black Friday because that is when retailers go “in the black” marking their profit for the year. From January until November they are not very profitable.

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    [...] you go Black you’ll never go back” and why in Checkers is there Black and Red. — The RED States — dey don’t like no Black — though THE HOT WORD is the [...]

  21. Jonel -  July 23, 2010 - 1:43 pm

    This is cool and informative.

  22. Isa -  July 23, 2010 - 11:54 am

    Haha Black friday i think it’s called that because it is the day when People Honor Corporate America but spendinglots of money on things they will never wear. Which is indeed a black offair

  23. Anna -  July 23, 2010 - 11:51 am

    I always assumed it was coined by employees who had to work the Friday after Thanksgiving. It is the most nightmarish day of the year when you are the one opening the doors and stocking the shelves..


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