5 Things You Thought You Knew About Black Friday… That Are Totally Wrong

Early morning shoppers leave the Christiana Mall under a light rain, Friday, Nov. 26, 2010 in Christiana, Del.
Early morning shoppers leave the Christiana Mall under a light rain, Friday, Nov. 26, 2010 in Christiana, Del. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Did you know the name Black Friday has nothing to do with retailer profits? Or that the day may not actually be the busiest shopping day of the year?

Since I was a kid, Black Friday shopping has just been a regular part of the holiday season. I never questioned its origins or its domination of retail shopping deals.

Apparently, I should have.

As I dug into the history of Black Friday I busted those and a few other common myths about the shopping pseudo-holiday.

Read on — and let us know which of these caught you by surprise!

Here are some common Black Friday myths you should stop believing.

1. The “Black” in “Black Friday” Comes From an Accounting Term

I’ve heard this one for years: “Black Friday” comes from the phrase “in the black,” used in accounting to refer to the black ink indicating retailers are finally turning a profit.


It’s true that many retailers turn their only profits in the fourth quarter — some even run at a loss the rest of the year. But this isn’t what coined the popular name for the day after Thanksgiving.

In fact, the term originated as a negative one, and we believe it started in Philadelphia.

Various sources offer different dates of origin, but it looks like “Black Friday” was popular in Philly by the 1970s. It was the day shoppers overwhelmed the city and caused all kinds of headaches for local police.

As retailers raked in profits, Black Friday spelled doomsday for store employees, city officials and others who worked extra hard to guide the nation through the frenzy.

By the 1990s, the term started catching on around the country, and our best explanation for the accounting story is media spin. The dark connotation of the term was not in the best interest of retailers.

2. Black Friday Is the Busiest Shopping Day of the Year

It has to be the busiest shopping day, right? Why else would the news cover shopping malls and microwave sales?

This might just be hype. Black Friday has ranked among the busiest shopping days for decades, but didn’t move into the top spot until online shopping became popular over the past decade.

Between 1993 and 2002, the Saturday before Christmas held the number-one spot for retail sales. Black Friday ranked between fourth and eighth busiest those years.

Black Friday pulled into the lead for the first time in 2003 and has held that position since 2005. But with the majority of people shopping from home, we have to attribute some success to online shopping, not the mall’s doorbusters.

3. Black Friday Deals Inspire Violence in Shoppers

We’ve all seen the headlines and heard horror stories. There’s even an online ticker that used to count Black Friday deaths and injuries.

But is Black Friday really turning us all into deal-crazed maniacs willing to kick off the holiday season with manslaughter for a discount on the latest American Girl doll?

Probably not.

A closer look at stories of “Black Friday” violence shows most of these aren’t related to shopping at all.

This 2013 robbery didn’t even occur at a retail store.

This 2008 incident at Toys R Us was considered gang-related.

Few news reports cite a shopping-related conflict as the cause for violence or injury, but Black Friday still makes it in the headline.

Even if all “Black Friday violence” could be linked to shopping, it wouldn’t be unique to the holiday.

Walmart is one of the biggest Black Friday offenders, and is linked to rising crime rates around the country, regardless of the time of year

“Black Friday death” makes a killer headline (pun intended). But make sure you know the details before believing the hype.

4.Thanksgiving Dictates Black Friday’s Date

Each year, Black Friday falls on the day after Thanksgiving. So the date of the shopping day is dependent on the floating date of Turkey Day.

Nope — that doesn’t seem to be the case.

You may have heard that Thanksgiving Day has shifted over the years — from the last Thursday of November to the fourth Thursday.

The country was even once split over the issue: In 1939-40, 16 states celebrated Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November, while President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the rest of the country celebrated on the second-to-last Thursday.


It was all about money.

The last Thursday of November in 1939 was also the last day of the month. Because tradition and protocol kept consumers from holiday shopping until after Thanksgiving, this created a shorter holiday shopping season.

Less shopping meant reduced retail profits, a threat to the economy still recovering from the Great Depression.

Thankfully, Congress stepped in to clear up the confusion caused by Roosevelt’s proclamation. November’s fourth Thursday was officially declared Thanksgiving in 1941, which accounts for years when there are five Thursdays in the month.

The resolution preserves tradition without compromising our ability to finish our shopping before December 25.

It’s a bit of a chicken-or-egg question, but it looks like Black Friday’s popularity had a significant influence on Thanksgiving’s official date.

5. Black Friday Offers the Best Retail Shopping Deals

If you keep an eye on Black Friday ads, you’ll probably feel some déjà vu. Many retailers recycle the same deals each year — some practically print the same flyer!

But even these deals aren’t always the year’s best. You can always wait for an even better deal. Discounts can get significantly steeper as Christmas draws near, according to a 2014 report from ShopAdvisor.

The report also found that 42% of products were priced lower in the four weeks before Black Friday than on the actual day. Average discounts on the days leading up to Christmas also outweighed Black Friday deals — some were three times higher.

Can You Believe It?

Black Friday may not be everything we always believed it was. But even with these myths busted, a holiday about finding a good deal is still a win for a Penny Hoarder!

Dana Sitar ([email protected]) is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. Say hi and tell her a good joke on Twitter @danasitar.