I was reading the Detroit News the other day when I found out something that shocked me.
It was about Black Friday, the day when shoppers go crazy, standing in line for hours in the cold to save some cash. The day stores just seem to love to give things away. The day after Thanksgiving. Yes, that Black Friday.
Black Friday started at my beloved J.L. Hudson’s department store in downtown Detroit 30 years ago. Another little facto about Detroit that I can use at dinner parties to impress my friends.
I had no idea. Frankly, I’ve never heard this before so I decided to take a look at the one place you find out anything and it’s always right.
Here’s the problem. Wikipedia has no mention of J.L Hudson’s on its Black Friday page. Here is the history section of that page:
That the day after Thanksgiving is the “official” start of the holiday shopping season may be linked together with the idea of Santa Claus parades. Parades celebrating Thanksgiving often include an appearance by Santa at the end of the parade, with the idea that ‘Santa has arrived’ or ‘Santa is just around the corner’.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, many Santa parades or Thanksgiving Day parades were sponsored by department stores. These include the Toronto Santa Claus Parade, in Canada, sponsored by Eaton’s, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade sponsored by Macy’s. Department stores would use the parades to launch a big advertising push. Eventually it just became an unwritten rule that no store would try doing Christmas advertising before the parade was over. Therefore, the day after Thanksgiving became the day when the shopping season officially started.
Later on, the fact that this marked the official start of the shopping season led to controversy. In 1939, retail shops would have liked to have a longer shopping season, but no store wanted to break with tradition and be the one to start advertising before Thanksgiving. President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the date for Thanksgiving one week earlier, leading to much anger by the public who wound up having to change holiday plans. Some even refused the change, resulting in the U.S. citizens celebrating Thanksgiving on two separate days. Some started referring to the change as Franksgiving.
I checked another source, Time Magazine. Here’s what Time had to say:
As early as the 19th century, shoppers have viewed Thanksgiving as the traditional start to the holiday shopping season, an occasion marked by celebrations and sales. Department stores in particular locked onto this marketing notion, hosting parades to launch the start of the first wave of Christmas advertisements, chief among them, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, running in New York City since 1924. The holiday spree became so important to retailers that during the Great Depression, they appealed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 to move Thanksgiving up in order to stretch out the holiday shopping season. Roosevelt obliged, moving Thanksgiving one week earlier, but didn’t announce the change until October. As a result, Americans had two Thanksgivings that year — Roosevelt’s, derisively dubbed “Franksgiving,” and the original. Because the switchover was handled so poorly, few observed it, and the change resulted in little economic boost.
The term Black Friday itself was originally used to describe something else entirely — the Sept. 24, 1864, stock-market panic set off by plunging gold prices. Newspapers in Philadelphia reappropriated the phrase in the late 1960s, using it to describe the rush of crowds at stores. The justification came later, tied to accounting balance sheets where black ink would represent a profit. Many see Black Friday as the day retailers go into the black or show a profit for the first time in a given year. The term stuck and spread, and by the 1990s Black Friday became an unofficial retail holiday nationwide. Since 2002, Black Friday has been the season’s biggest shopping day each year except 2004, according to market-research firm ShopperTrak.
So in the end, I’m not sure. I’m sticking to the Detroit News that “what we now know today as Black Friday” started in Detroit. If it didn’t, well, hopefully the folks at the dinner parties won’t know I’m wrong or won’t remember me saying it.