The day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday – but why? It’s traditionally the start of the holiday shopping season, so why not Red Friday? Red is a much happier and Christmassy colour after all.
Well, there are various theories on the origins of the term. About English Idioms says that it’s all to do with retailers moving into the black (or profit) after most of the year spent in the red (in debt). Kevin Drum has a deeper exploration at Mother Jones, concluding that:
…the term goes back to at least 1966 — in Philadelphia, at least. An advertisement that year in The American Philatelist from a stamp shop in Philadelphia starts out: “‘Black Friday’ is the name which the Philadelphia Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment to them. ‘Black Friday’ officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing.”
So: apparently it did originate in Philadelphia, it did originally refer to big crowds and traffic jams, and retailers did hate the term and presumably created their own, more consumer-friendly origin story sometime in the 1980s. So there you go.
There you go indeed.