Photo: A crowd gathers for a Black Friday demonstration organized by Rev. Jesse Jackson along Chicago's busy retail strip of Michigan Avenue, in response to the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by police - @bylaurenfitz
Black Friday is the Friday following Thanksgiving Day in the United States (the fourth Thursday of November). Since the early 2000s, it has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the US, and most major retailers open very early (and more recently during overnight hours) and offer promotional sales. Black Friday is not an official 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 following Friday off, which, along with the following regular weekend, makes it a four-day 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. Similar stories resurface year upon year at this time, portraying hysteria and shortage of stock, creating a state of positive feedback.
In 2014, $50.9 billion was spent during the 4-day Black Friday weekend, down 11% from last year. While approximately 133 million U.S. consumers shopped during the same period, down 5.2% from last year's 141 million.
The day's name originated in Philadelphia, where it originally was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that 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, and Bealls) 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. In 2014 stores such as JCPenney, Best Buy, and Radio Shack opened at 5 PM on Thanksgiving Day while stores such as Target, Walmart, Belk, and Sears opened at 6 PM on Thanksgiving Day. There have been reports of violence occurring between shoppers on Black Friday.
It is common for prospective shoppers to camp out over the Thanksgiving holiday in an effort to secure a place in front of the line and thus a better chance at getting desired items; because this poses a significant safety risk (such as the use of propane and generators in the most elaborate cases, and in general, the blocking of emergency access and fire lanes) at least one city has banned this practice.