A Brief History of Black Friday.

Parade floats were first introduced in the Middle Ages when churches used pageant wagons as movable scenery for passion plays, and they remained popular in Europe for centuries.

Many Jewish immigrants arrived to the United States after the events of the 1848 German Revolution. After being marginalized in Europe, the Jewish people went on to flourish in a new land of opportunities. Among the immigrants were Benjamin Bloomingdale and Elkan Bamberger, whose sons would go on to found two of the most successful department stores. Brothers Isidor and Nathan Straus immigrated later and would end up acquiring Bamberger’s and Macy’s.

By the early 1900s many of the department store employees were still first-generation immigrants. Proud of their new American heritage, they wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving with the type of festival their parents had loved in Europe. The annual Thanksgiving parade was started in 1920 by Louis Bamberger in Newark, New Jersey at the Bamberger’s store, and was transferred to New York by Macy’s in 1924.

While the religious parades of Europe usually guided the faithful to a sacred site, the Macy’s parade lead directly to a department store. This started the now ubiquitous relationship between Thanksgiving and commercialism. By the 1930s the parade was gathering crowds of over a million. The show has been broadcasted since 1948  —the year that regular television network programming began— and has replaced most historic and cultural references with commercial brands and corporate mascots such as Ronald McDonald.

It became an unwritten rule that no store would do Christmas advertising before the end of the parade, which is marked by the presence of Santa Claus. Therefore, the day after Thanksgiving became the day when the shopping season officially started. The boost in economic activity following Thanksgiving became so significant that, during the Great Depression, the Federated Department Stores persuaded President Franklin D. Roosevelt to officially move Thanksgiving a week earlier. What became known as Franksgiving or  Democratic Thanksgiving was not very popular. On October 6, 1941, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution fixing the traditional last-Thursday date for the holiday beginning in 1942.

As merchants started to compete for the holiday dollars, the days after Thanksgiving resulted in massive traffic jams, mobs and over-crowded stores. By the early 1960s, it was customary for the Philadelphia Police Department to refer to them as Black Friday and Black Saturday. Many retailers objected to the use of a negative term to refer to the most important shopping days in the year, and tried to rebrand them with names such as Big Friday. But the name was gradually adopted by the public, prompting a new spin on it by retailers. By the early 1980s, the term was being justified by explaining that Black Friday marks the beginning of the period when many retailers would no longer be “in the red” and instead take in the year’s profits to be “in the black”.

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2 comments on “A Brief History of Black Friday.

  1. Pingback: Black Friday | Stop Making Sense

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