Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 28, 2015

When Black Friday Comes

When Black Friday comes
I’m gonna stake my claim
I’ll guess I’ll change my name.

The older one gets, the more often one asks, “Was it always like this?” Eventually one says with assurance, “It wasn’t always like this.” It starts early. When one is eight, one remembers those halcyon days when one was seven and that extra carton of milk in the school cafeteria cost only two cents, instead of the exorbitant four cent price in force a year later in fourth grade (I realize there may have been inflation since I was eight). In seventh grade (that’s about age 12, for those of you outside the U.S.), one recalls the joys of mid-morning and mid-afternoon, recess, now lost in the mists of time, consumed by a grueling day-long grind of nothing but endless classes. Ah, the world goes downhill.

The Counselor and I wondered this week when it was that the dire “Black Friday” shopping phenomenon had taken over the day after Thanksgiving. How, in fact, did the term — traditionally one of negative connotation — even get associated with a celebration of consumeristic excess and, generally a positive one? We had the impression it has been fewer than a dozen years, maybe far fewer. It seems forever, though, that bargain-crazed shoppers have been willing to do violence to one another in the wee hours in order to nab a great deal on some Cabbage Patch Kids, Beanie Babies or (name your product here) only to have it stolen from them in some icy parking lot. Prior to that, the day after Thanksgiving was — if one was fortunate in one’s choice of employer — an extra paid day off and, in any case, nothing resembling the retail bacchanalia of today.

According to Wikipedia, the term was first associated with the heavy traffic of the day after Thanksgiving in Philadelphia in the 1970s. A watershed of sorts seems to have occurred around 2011, when retailers began opening very early in the morning, and in subsequent years even on Thanksgiving Day. Interestingly, the retailers credited with shoving the opening back onto Thanksgiving Day itself around 2012-2014 include JCPenney, Best Buy and Radio Shack. One is compelled to mention that all three of these brands are struggling or bankrupt, raising the question of how much good it did them in putting the balance sheet “in the black.”

Another Wikipedia item, HERE, lists sixteen examples of dates named “Black Friday,” all of them with negative associations. The stock market crash of October 29, 1929 is forever known as Black Tuesday. My first corporate employer had, a dozen or more years before I started there, laid off 16,000 employees on a Friday, still referred to by old-timers as Black Friday. It’s rare to have a “black” day associated with anything except extremely bad news.

Attitudes about shopping as well as retail behavior have changed radically in my lifetime. In my small Midwestern city when I was a young boy, one might not find a single business open on a Sunday or a national holiday, with one exception. There were three pharmacies in town, all family owned. They had an agreement to take turns staying open on Sundays or holidays, so that someone who needed medicine had a place to get it. Local church bulletins listed which of them would be open on any given Sunday. A lot has changed. We try to avoid misty reminiscence of the “good old days” here, but something’s lost.

© 2015 Brad Nixon.

Lyrics to “Black Friday” by Walter Carl Becker and Donald Jay Fagen



  1. You got TWO recess periods per day in the seventh grade??? What a progressive school you attended! I remember that I got only ONE recess period per day in junior high. I remember this fact because recess was my favorite class. 🙂


  2. Black Friday here was rather a dismal event, with most of the sales occurring online, and many purchases received free mailing. Soon even Black Fridays will be a thing of the past, but with the traffic and crowds thinning, it will be a good thing.


  3. Sigh…. Truly resonant with your thoughts, Brad…well articulated as always!!


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