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Why is it called Black Friday? Thanksgiving tradition explained

Learn a little history while you scramble for those Black Friday bargains.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 25:  A woman carries retail shopping bags during Black Friday events on November 25, 2016 in New York City.  The day after Thanksgiving, called Black Friday, is typically the biggest shopping day of the year in the United States. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

Formerly an American tradition, the Black Friday shopping craze has now spread to the UK and beyond, to the joy of retailers and deal hunters everywhere.

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However, while most know that the retail event follows the Thanksgiving holiday, it is less known how exactly the two are linked – or how the sales day obtained its dubious name.

Well, wonder no more – while most people are surely more interested in the great Black Friday deals, for those interested here is the reason why you were able to buy a Fire Stick so cheap this year.

Why is it called Black Friday?

Black Friday owes its existence to Thanksgiving, an annual US holiday which celebrates the harvest and other blessings of the past year. The day after Thanksgiving had been regarded as the start of the Christmas shopping season since the 1950s, drawing in huge crowds and forcing police to work long hours.

In 1960s Philadelphia, bus drivers and police began referring to this day as Black Friday, a reference to the heavy traffic and crowds that would clog the city streets. The term slowly gained popularity over the next few decades, with the term used to refer to the traffic congestion as much as the sales.

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 25: Customers shop for electronics items during 'Black Friday' at a Best Buy store on November 25, 2011 San Diego, California. Thousands of consumers are queuing at various stores across the nation to take advantage of 'Black Friday' deals as the holiday shopping season begins in America. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

However, retailers disliked the negative connotation with one of their biggest sales days and instead circulated a more positive explanation in the 1980s. Merchants suggested that this was the day when they began to turn a profit for the year, going from being “in the red” (making losses) to “in the black” (making money).

Some retailers have even tried to rebrand the entire day as “Big Friday”, however, this alternative name never caught on. By the 1980s Black Friday had gained widespread popularity and has been the busiest US  shopping day of the year routinely since 2005.

Here in the UK Boxing Day has traditionally been the biggest shopping day – but Black Friday is slowly overtaking, and in 2017, UK retail sales in November grew faster than in December for the first time.

Why is it called Cyber Monday?

Cyber Monday 2019
Cyber Monday

The origins of this one are a tad less historical. Research showed that the Monday after Thanksgiving was one of the busiest online shopping days of the year in the US, as people returned to work after the sales and browsed for deals online. Retailers were attempting to encourage customers to use online shopping at this point, and in 2005 the term Cyber Monday was coined as an online alternative to Black Friday.

Of course with the rise of high-speed internet and online shopping, the two have become rather blurred with many Black Friday deals online also. However, Cyber Monday still continues to grow with exclusive, website-only deals and is the biggest online shopping day of the year in countries such as the US.

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For the origins of a more recent shopping phenomenon, see our guide to what Amazon Prime Day is and how it came about.