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The earliest evidence of the phrase Black Friday applied to the day after Thanksgiving in a shopping context suggests that the term originated in Philadelphia, where it was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that would occur on the day after Thanksgiving.
Traditionally, the term signaled that something had gone horribly wrong with the economy. “Black Friday” was first used to describe Sept. 24, 1869, when several financiers tried to corner the gold market and instead crashed the market and caused a depression.
The day after Thanksgiving has been regarded as the beginning of America’s Christmas shopping season since 1952, although the term “Black Friday” did not become widely used until more recent decades.
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.