Black Friday is the Friday following Thanksgiving Day in the United States (the fourth Thursday of November), often regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. In recent years, most major retailers have opened very early and offered promotional sales to kick off the holiday shopping season, similar to Boxing Day sales in many Commonwealth nations. Black Friday is not a holiday, but California and some other states observe "The Day After Thanksgiving" as a holiday for state government employees, sometimes in lieu of another federal holiday such as Columbus Day. Many non-retail employees and schools have both Thanksgiving and the day after off, followed by a weekend, thereby increasing the number of potential shoppers. It has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005, although news reports, which at that time were inaccurate, have described it as the busiest shopping day of the year for a much longer period of time.
The day's name originated in Philadelphia, where it originally was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic which would occur on the day after Thanksgiving. Use of the term started before 1961 and began to see broader use outside Philadelphia around 1975. Later an alternative explanation was made: that retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss ("in the red") from January through November, and "Black Friday" indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, or "in the black".
For many years, it was common for retailers to open at 6:00 a.m., but in the late 2000s many had crept to 5:00 or even 4:00. This was taken to a new extreme in 2011, when several retailers (including Target, Kohl's, Macy's, Best Buy, andBealls) opened at midnight for the first time. In 2012, Walmart and several other retailers announced that they would open most of their stores at 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day (except in states where opening on Thanksgiving is prohibited due to blue laws, such as Massachusetts where they still opened around midnight), prompting calls for a walkout among some workers. There have been reports of violence occurring between shoppers on Black Friday.
The news media have long described the day after Thanksgiving as the busiest shopping day of the year. In earlier years, this was not actually the case. In the period from 1993 through 2001, for example, Black Friday ranked from fifth to tenth on the list of busiest shopping days, with the last Saturday before Christmas usually taking first place. In 2003, however, Black Friday actually was the busiest shopping day of the year, and it has retained that position every year since, with the exception of 2004, when it ranked second (after Saturday, December 18).
Black Friday is popular as a shopping day for a combination of reasons. As the first day after the last major holiday before Christmas it marks the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season. Additionally, many employers give their employees the day off as part of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. In order to take advantage of this, virtually all retailers in the country, big and small, offer various sales including limited amounts of doorbuster/doorcrasher items to entice traffic. Recent years have seen retailers extend beyond normal hours in order to maintain an edge, or to simply keep up with the competition. Such hours may include opening as early as 12:00 am or remaining open overnight on Thanksgiving Day and beginning sale prices at midnight. In 2010, Toys 'R' Us began their Black Friday sales at 10:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day and further upped the ante by offering free boxes of Crayola crayons and coloring books for as long as supplies lasted. Other retailers, like Sears, Aéropostale, and Kmart, began Black Friday sales early Thanksgiving morning, and ran them through as late as 11:00 pm Friday evening. Forever 21 went in the opposite direction, opening at normal hours on Friday, and running late sales until 2:00 am Saturday morning. Historically, it was common for Black Friday sales to extend throughout the following weekend. However, this practice has largely disappeared in recent years, perhaps because of an effort by retailers to create a greater sense of urgency.
The news media usually give heavy play to reports of Black Friday shopping and their implications for the commercial success of the Christmas shopping season, but the relationship between Black Friday sales and retail sales for the full holiday season is quite weak and may even be negative.