Archive for the ‘Black Friday’ Category

Black Friday Runs Red for Grinches

November 27, 2008

clip_image002Black Friday is the name used to refer to the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, and is generally regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.  Since Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday in November, Black Friday may occur as early as the 23rd and as late as the 30th of November.  The term appears to have come into common usage sometime in the 1960’s, but its origins are more difficult to nail down.  Though it was likely a creation of the media, the retail industry is also a beneficiary of the concept.

clip_image002[11]Although it is commonly understood as the busiest shopping day of the year, apparently sales data reflect that Black Friday is more often than not a little lower than a handful of December shopping days.  Nevertheless, Black Friday is the retail industy’s equivalent to the starting gun in track and field, as shoppers suddenly race to malls across the country flooding retail stores in search of Christmas gifts, decorations, and accessories.  Black Friday is not an official holiday, but most non-retail businesses give their employees the day off, which increases the typical number of Friday shoppers.

The explanation for the name varies from its reference to an accounting term, to the more ominous view that merchants are suddenly so inundated with shoppers that it is viewed as a dark day by retail employees.  While the latter may be true, the former seems a more apt explanation since in the olden days accountants would write the daily balance of accounts in black ink if it was a positive balance, or use red ink if it was a negative balance (a practice continued today in software programs like Excel, etc.).

The one sure thing is that the shopping days from Thanksgiving to just after Christmas are the most important for the retail industry, as slow Christmas sales can sink a merchant.  Many sustain losses all year long until Christmas sales take them “out of the red” and back “into the black”.

Evidence of this vital relationship between Christmas and the retail industry is documented at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum article “The Year We Had Two Thanksgivings”.  In 1939, towards the end of The Great Depression, November had 5 Thursdays, so the last Thursday of November was going to fall on the 30th.  Retailers complained to FDR that this only left 24 shopping days to Christmas and begged him to push Thanksgiving up one week earlier on the calendar.  Data then, as now, showed that most people waited to do their Christmas shopping until after Thanksgiving and retailers hoped their sales would increase with an extra week of shopping.

The letter from the Downtown Association of Los Angeles represents the view of many large merchants across the country, versus the letter from Arnold’s Men’s Shop which argued for the benefits to smaller merchants of a shorter Christmas shopping season:

The small storekeeper would prefer leaving Thanksgiving Day where it belongs.  If the large department stores are over-crowded during the shorter shopping period before Christmas, the overflow will come, naturally, to the neighborhood store.

We have waited many years for a late Thanksgiving to give us an advantage over the large stores, and we are sadly disappointed at your action, in this matter.

In an effort to boost the economy during the “Roosevelt Recession”, FDR announced in his Thanksgiving Proclamations, both in 1939 and 1940, declaring the date of Thanksgiving to be the second-to-last Thursday of the month.

While Abraham Lincoln had established the Thanksgiving holiday in 1863 to bring the country together, the confusion caused by FDR’s date change was tearing it apart.  On December 26, 1941, Congress passed a law declaring that Thanksgiving would occur every year on the fourth Thursday of November.

This year, Black Friday falls on November 28th, meaning the Christmas shopping calendar is reduced to a little less than four weeks…this in a year which has seen the Dow lose half its value, industry after industry climbing capital hill begging for handouts, and unemployment on the rise.

Unlike those of The Great Depression, however, some retailers today act in a hostile manner toward the holiday which keeps them from bleeding red ink, choosing political correctness over profits.  But consumers also have a choice: mindlessly purchasing goods for no other reason than “it’s the holiday season”; or, because there’s a reason we shop at this particular time of the year, purchasing Christmas gifts from merchants that acknowledge that fact and welcome our celebration. 

So vote with your Christmas dollars and let the free market – not the secular-fascist Grinches – determine whether Christmas or any other holiday is to be recognized, or ignored.

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