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Black Friday: The Biggest Shopping Day in America

Introduction to Black Friday

Black Friday, a term that has become synonymous with images of crowded stores, long checkout lines, and flash online sales, marks the official start of the holiday shopping season in the United States. Occurring on the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday is renowned as one of the busiest shopping days of the year, when retailers offer significant discounts to entice consumers to start their holiday shopping.

More than just a shopping extravaganza, Black Friday represents a critical juncture in the U.S. retail calendar. For consumers, it’s a golden opportunity to stretch their holiday budgets, bagging substantial savings on their purchases. Some prepare for this day months in advance, strategizing their shopping lists, and planning their store routes or online shopping tactics to maximize their savings. For many, the thrill of bagging a good deal is as much a part of the holiday season as Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas trees.

For businesses, on the other hand, Black Friday holds a different but equally significant meaning. It’s a day to attract a flood of customers, boost sales volumes, and crucially, increase profits. Whether they’re established brands or emerging enterprises, businesses across the spectrum strategize for this shopping holiday, crafting attractive promotions to outshine competitors and grab consumer attention. In many cases, the success of Black Friday sales can set the tone for a retailer’s entire holiday season performance, making it a high-stakes day on the commercial front.

Thus, Black Friday has grown into a phenomenon that is integral to American consumer culture. It’s a day when consumers and retailers alike partake in a dance of supply and demand, driven by the lure of deals, the excitement of the season, and the economics of the retail industry. This potent mix has cemented Black Friday’s position as a pivotal event in the annual retail calendar, one that is steeped in anticipation, executed with fervor, and dissected for trends and insights long after the last shopping bag is filled.

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The History of Black Friday

The term “Black Friday” wasn’t always associated with shopping or sales. Its origins date back to the mid-19th century, when it was used to describe a financial crisis in 1869. However, the context we know today has a different story.

In the 1950s, Philadelphia police used the term “Black Friday” to refer to the day after Thanksgiving due to the chaos that ensued as shoppers flocked to the city ahead of the annual Army-Navy football game held that weekend. The crowds, traffic, and shoplifting were such a headache that the police started referring to it as “Black Friday.”

The term gained wider usage in the 1960s, again in Philadelphia, when it was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that would occur on the day after Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, another theory arose around the term “Black Friday.” Some people believe the term refers to the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, or “go into the black,” after operating at an overall loss, or “in the red,” for much of the year. According to this theory, “Black Friday” represents the day when retailers’ books finally tipped from red to black. However, this explanation seems to have emerged later, in the 1980s, and is often seen as a more positive rebranding of the term.

As for notable historical events on Black Friday, one of the most significant took place in the late 20th and early 21st centuries when some retailers began opening their doors earlier and earlier on Friday morning, some even starting their sales on Thanksgiving Day itself. This move sparked controversy and debate over the balance between commercial interests and the preservation of Thanksgiving as a day for family and relaxation.

However, these practices have also led to some tragic incidents. In 2008, a worker at a large retailer in New York was tragically trampled to death as a crowd of shoppers rushed into the store when it opened its doors. Such incidents have sparked a backlash against the excessive consumerism associated with Black Friday, leading some retailers and consumers to rethink their participation in the event.

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Black Friday’s Economic Impact

The economic repercussions of Black Friday extend well beyond the cash registers of retailers. The surge of spending on this day provides valuable insights into the overall health and confidence of the American consumer. A review of this shopping holiday sales trends over the years underscores this reality – consistently, this day generates billions of dollars in sales, affirming its place as a major economic event.

Data from the National Retail Federation reveals that, in recent years, the average spending per person over the five-day period spanning Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday has soared into the hundreds of dollars. Cumulatively, this implies that the total spending across the country during this period rockets well into the billions, demonstrating the immense scale and economic significance of Black Friday.

The consequences of this brief, yet intense, period of consumer activity ripple across the U.S. economy. Naturally, it boosts profits for retailers, many of whom rely on a successful Black Friday to ensure a profitable year. However, the impact isn’t confined to the retail sector alone. The demand for goods spurs job creation, particularly for seasonal roles in retail and logistics, contributing to employment figures and individual incomes.

Moreover, this spending spree leads to a surge in sales tax revenues, providing a boost to government coffers. It also drives activity in related industries – from shipping companies working round the clock to deliver online purchases, to advertising agencies crafting eye-catching campaigns for their retail clients.

In a broader economic context, robust sales during the this shopping holiday period can be interpreted as an indicator of healthy consumer confidence. High consumer spending signals faith in economic stability and personal financial security, which are key drivers of economic growth. Therefore, economists and market analysts often scrutinize Black Friday sales data to gauge the health of the economy and predict future trends.

Additionally, Black Friday serves as a litmus test for market trends and consumer behavior, offering retailers an invaluable opportunity to understand their customers better. By introducing new products and gauging consumer response to different offerings, retailers can gather critical insights. Which items are flying off the shelves? Which promotions resonate most with shoppers? What are the emerging trends in consumer preferences?

The answers to these questions help businesses adjust their strategies accordingly, refining their product assortments, pricing, and promotional tactics. The data gleaned from Black Friday can even influence decisions for the following year, making this day not just a one-time sales event, but a long-term strategic tool.

In essence, Black Friday is much more than a day of shopping; it’s a significant economic phenomenon that offers a window into consumer confidence, drives multiple sectors of the economy, and helps shape market trends and strategies.

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Sociocultural Aspects of Black Friday

Black Friday, while predominantly an economic event, also carries substantial sociocultural implications. It stands as a testament to the consumerism culture that has become deeply embedded in American society. The excitement of nabbing a great deal, the tradition of initiating the holiday shopping spree, and the camaraderie of communal shopping experiences combine to create a unique social phenomenon that draws millions of consumers every year.

The anticipation building up to Black Friday, the shared experiences of planning and executing shopping strategies, and the ensuing conversations around triumphs and disappointments contribute to a sense of shared culture around the event. It’s become a ritualistic aspect of American consumer culture that extends beyond mere purchasing – it’s about participating in a shared, national experience.

However, alongside these positive sociocultural elements of this shopping holiday, there are also less desirable, even troubling, aspects. The fervor of the consumer frenzy occasionally boils over into instances of violence and unruly behavior. Regrettably, news reports of shoppers fighting over the last discounted television or trampling incidents in the rush to enter stores have become somewhat synonymous with Black Friday. These situations underscore the darker side of the event and the negative social behaviors it can incite.

Additionally, the day brings a surge of stress and demand for retail workers. Those on the frontline have to navigate the long hours, high customer demands, and the occasional chaos that Black Friday can bring. The toll it takes on these workers often gets lost in the wider narrative of shopping and deals.

This juxtaposition of the excitement of deals and the darker incidents of consumer behavior has led to criticisms and backlash against Black Friday. Critics argue that it encourages over-consumption and materialism, casting a shadow over the original spirit of Thanksgiving – a holiday intended for gratitude, reflection, and quality time with family.

In response to this backlash, and in an attempt to balance commercial interests with social responsibility, some retailers have started to pull back from opening on Thanksgiving Day itself, thereby preserving it as a family-centered holiday. Furthermore, initiatives like #GivingTuesday have emerged as socially conscious alternatives to the consumerism of this shopping holiday. By encouraging charitable giving and community involvement, they offer an opportunity to offset the material focus of Black Friday with acts of generosity and kindness.

As such, Black Friday is a multifaceted event that intertwines the economics of retail, the rituals of consumer culture, and the social behaviors of the public. The complex dynamics surrounding it continue to evolve as society grapples with the delicate balance between consumption, tradition, and social responsibility.

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The Evolution of Black Friday in the Digital Age

As we continue to stride deeper into the digital age, Black Friday, like many other facets of our lives, has been transformed by the sweeping currents of technology. The rise of e-commerce has revolutionized the traditional Black Friday shopping experience, reshaping it from a physical, in-store event to an increasingly digital phenomenon.

Today’s consumers can enjoy the thrill of Black Friday sales without ever leaving their homes, bypassing crowded parking lots and long checkout lines. With just a few clicks, they can browse, compare, and purchase goods from an array of online retailers. The increasing shift towards online shopping during Black Friday represents a major evolution in the way this event is conducted and experienced. This trend has grown significantly over the years, with online sales carving out an ever-larger slice of the total Black Friday sales pie.

However, the influence of digital technology on the Black Friday tradition doesn’t stop at facilitating online shopping. It has also spawned a whole new shopping event: Cyber Monday. Scheduled on the Monday following Thanksgiving, Cyber Monday is a day earmarked for further deals and discounts, this time focusing exclusively on the online retail sphere.

Cyber Monday was initially created to encourage people to shop online at a time when e-commerce was still in its early days. Today, however, it stands as a testament to the digital transformation of the retail industry. Over the years, Cyber Monday has expanded the traditional one-day Black Friday shopping extravaganza into a longer period of consumer activity, extending the potential for retailers to drive sales and for consumers to find great deals.

In fact, the shift towards digital has been so dramatic that in some cases, Cyber Monday has even surpassed its predecessor, Black Friday, in terms of online sales volume. This trend points to the growing preference among consumers for digital shopping experiences over traditional brick-and-mortar store visits.

In a broader context, this transition reflects the wider societal shift towards digital and remote solutions across various aspects of our lives – from work and education to entertainment and shopping. As such, Black Friday, once symbolic of crowded stores and bustling malls, has transformed in the digital age into a more complex event that straddles both physical and digital realms. Its evolution stands as an example of how longstanding traditions can adapt and evolve in response to technological advancements and changing consumer behaviors.

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As we reach the conclusion of our exploration into Black Friday, it becomes increasingly clear that this event holds a unique and significant place in the grand tapestry of American society. It’s not merely a shopping extravaganza marked by discounted prices and increased sales. Black Friday is, in essence, a cultural phenomenon, a tradition deeply woven into the fabric of American consumer culture.

Its economic repercussions echo through the nation’s markets, influencing business strategies, shaping job markets, and impacting the broader economy. It isn’t just a day for consumers to fill their carts; it’s a day for economists and market analysts to fill their datasets. The sales data collected on Black Friday offers a rich trove of insights, providing a lens into the dynamics of American consumer behavior, and trends, and shaping predictions for the retail industry.

However, just as American society continues to evolve, so too does Black Friday. We’re already witnessing this transformation with the rise of e-commerce, which has significantly reshaped the traditional shopping experience associated with this shopping holiday. As digital platforms continue to grow in influence and ubiquity, they’re redefining the landscape of this historical shopping event.

Consumer expectations are also evolving. Today’s shoppers are increasingly value-conscious, tech-savvy, and socially aware, prompting retailers to reevaluate their strategies. The race for Black Friday success no longer simply involves slashing prices or opening stores at midnight. Retailers are now required to innovate, to consider their online presence, their sustainability credentials, and how they meet the diverse needs of their customers.

The future of Black Friday, much like its past, is likely to be characterized by change. The influence of technology, evolving consumer preferences, and broader societal trends will all play their roles in shaping this evolution. And while we cannot predict exactly what form these changes will take, one thing seems abundantly clear: Black Friday, whether in brick-and-mortar stores, online, or in some new form yet to be imagined, will remain a cornerstone of the American retail landscape.

Its enduring legacy and continued relevance underline its resilience and adaptability. As we look towards the future, it’s evident that Black Friday will continue to be a key chapter in the unfolding story of American consumer culture, a testament to the nation’s economic vitality and the evolving trends of its consumers.

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F.A.Q. About Black Friday

Here are answers to a few common questions you may have about Black Friday:

What Is Black Friday?

Black Friday is an annual shopping event occurring the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally marking the start of the holiday shopping season, during which retailers offer significant discounts on goods.

When Is Black Friday 2023?

Black Friday 2023 will take place on November 24th, the day after Thanksgiving.

Why Is It Called Black Friday?

The term “Black Friday” was popularized in the 1960s. It was used by Philadelphia police to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicular traffic occurring the day after Thanksgiving.

Black Friday

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New Year’s DayCinco de MayoColumbus Day
Martin Luther King Jr. DayMother’s DayHalloween
Valentine’s DayMemorial DayElection Day
Presidents’ DayFlag DayVeterans Day
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Easter SundayJuneteenthBlack Friday
Easter MondayIndependence DayChristmas Day
Tax DayLabor DayNew Year’s Eve
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