It’s Not Black Thursday

My daughter is a speech language pathologist in a school with early elementary students. Last year in the days before Thanksgiving, she told of a fellow speech pathologist who asked her students, “What holiday is this week?” The out of the mouths of babes answer came: ”Black Friday!”

Black Friday has entered our vocabulary. It is the day after Thanksgiving with all the great sales. The typical explanation for the term goes like this. Retailers may be operating in the red for much of the year. The red refers to red ink in an accounting ledger indicating that the store is operating at a loss. This shopping day puts them in the black (operating at a profit), hence Black Friday.

But a post for the American Dialect Society traces the phrase to Philadelphia in the 1960s. The police would refer to the shopping day after Thanksgiving as Black Friday due to the increased headaches for them from traffic congestion and pedestrian jay-walkers. They didn’t mean something positive by it. When a newspaper reporter picked up on the phrase from the police, retailers were not happy. They wanted to call the day “Big Friday.”

The phrase, however, caught on and spread to other cities in the 1970s. By the 1980s, the retail explanation of operating in the black became firmly attached to the phrase. At some point, stores began to open as early at 6:00 a.m. In the late 2000s, the opening times began to be earlier — 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. In 2011, a few stores opened at midnight, and last year, some stores opened on the evening of Thanksgiving Day.

While reporting on the stores opened on Thanksgiving Day last year, I heard a reporter call the day “Black Thursday.” I suppose the phrase was inevitable, and I don’t blame reporters for tying to be clever. But I wanted to talk back to the TV, “Excuse me, the day already has a name — it’s Thanksgiving Day.”

I’m not opposed to retailers operating in the black. I’m not opposed to shopping. I’ve had fun looking at sale fliers and searching for bargains too. Yet, I know that things change over time, ever so slowly so that we don’t even notice it, unless we stop and reflect. The trends in our society suggest that we must guard our hearts against materialism and greed.

Recent definitions of Thanksgiving Day have often seemed watered-down. I’ve read descriptions that say “a national holiday celebrating the harvest and other blessings.” Historically, we have said a day of Thanksgiving to God, our creator. If blessings don’t turn our hearts to God in thanksgiving, then the lack of gratitude will turn our hearts away from God. It’s Thanksgiving Day. It’s not Black Thursday.

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