When people emerge from residential hibernation the day after Thanksgiving, they pour into shopping centers. Consumers spent an estimated $68.9 billion over the holiday weekend in 2019, bolstering the bottom line for retailers like Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and online outlets.

If Black Friday is such a financial benefit, why is it called Black Friday? That modifier was usually reserved for cash-draining events like the Black Thursday that precipitated the 1929 stock market crash or the 1869 gold market collapse that led to financial ruin.

It turns out that the label didn’t always have the positive holiday spending connotation it enjoys today. Beginning in the 1950s, according to Snopes, employers and media began observing the trend of people calling in sick the day after Thanksgiving—traditionally not a paid holiday—to give themselves a four-day weekend. For businesses, that Friday was indeed bleak, as productivity slowed to a crawl. (Eventually, offices capitulated and gave employees the day off.)

Law enforcement also had reason to be disgruntled with that Friday. With everyone skipping work and kids off of school, traffic in major cities became a problem. Police in Philadelphia who were forced to deal with logjams and work mandatory shifts to cope with the congestion started to dread the day. Again, the “Black Friday” label seemed appropriate.

Eventually, this negative term spread to media and via word-of-mouth. Retailers in Philadelphia even tried to rephrase it to “Big Friday” to avoid the association with disaster. But it was Black Friday that stuck. It soon became synonymous with record profits, and the term was permanently adopted for the frenzied rush of shoppers using their day off to get their shopping done.

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