What does "Black Friday" even mean?

We all know what it is, and we all love it, or hate it, depending on how much money we are able to save versus how many people we run into at the mall.  But where did Black Friday and all its wonderful capitalist traditions come from?

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The name “Black Friday” was born in Philadelphia around 1961, originally describing the extreme pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the city on the day after Thanksgiving.  The term began to be used outside Philadelphia around 1975.  Although the media has described the day as the busiest shopping day of the year for a long time, it has only earned first place since 2003 (and it ranked second in 2004).

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It has always been common for stores to open early on Black Friday, but only as recently as the late 2000’s have stores opened at 4 or 5 AM.  In 2011, stores such as Target, Macy’s and Best Buy opened at midnight for the first time.  This year, Walmart opened at 8 PM on Thanksgiving evening.

According to the National Retail Federation, a total of $52.5 billion was spent in 2011 on Black Friday, with an average of $398.62 spent per person and 226 million shoppers.  While Black Friday sales serve as a great economic stimulus by encouraging people to shop, the extreme stores hours have caused some workers to call for a walkout in 2012.

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Despite the impressive profits, Black Friday has also been known for its violence.  Most well-known is the incident that occurred in 2008 in Valley Stream, New York when a Walmart employee was trampled to death as eager customers hurried into the store at opening time.  Many shoppers did not express much concern over the fate of the victim, complaining that they had been waiting out in the cold for the store to open.  More recently, a Toys For Tots volunteer was stabbed in Georgia in 2010, and in 2011 a woman used pepper spray on shoppers while waiting in line for an Xbox 360.  Also in 2011, 73-year-old Jan Sullivan was fired from Walmart after being pushed by a shopper due to Walmart’s policy that employees are not allowed to touch customers. The story received a lot of media attention and was very controversial for Walmart.

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Incidences such as these lead us to the question: is any sale really worth trampling someone to death?  Are labor rights being violated by having employees work ridiculous hours? Or is Black Friday merely an example of capitalism at its best and in fact an important source of consumer spending?  Regardless of how you feel about any of these questions, enjoy today’s sales, and watch out for crazy mothers with pepper spray.