Soapbox Saturday: Black Friday and “Nate the Great”

soap boxYesterday, the day after Thanksgiving, was so-called “Black Friday”.  The Brits, Canadians and some Australians have what has become a shopping holiday the day after Christmas – Boxing Day.  That might be a better term for our day after Thanksgiving slug-fest known as Black Friday.

brawl(click image to play video)

Not to pick on any one retailer (there were plenty of others), but there were more than a few incidences across the country which involved assaults – even a stabbing over a parking space – at Walmart.   Really, people?  I can’t help but think that this wasn’t what Sam Walton had in mind when he founded the megastore chain.

History of Black Friday

Since this is after all a history blog, I would be remiss if I didn’t enlighten my readers as to the history of “Black Friday”.  I assumed it was a relatively new term referring to the fact that many retailers were able to “get out of the red” and “into the black” on the busy shopping day after Thanksgiving.

Research shows that perhaps the first reference to “Black Friday” was coined in an article by M.J. Murphy (“Tips to Good Human Relations for Factory Executives”, Factory Management and Maintenance, 109(11), 137, November 1951).  The article was quoted by Bonnie Taylor-Blake in a study done for the American Dialect Society:


“Friday-after-Thanksgiving-itis” is a disease second only to the bubonic
plague in its effects.  At least that’s the feeling of those who have to get
production out, when the “Black Friday” comes along.  The shop may be half
empty, but every absentee was sick — and can prove it.

What to do?  Many companies have tried the standard device of denying
Thanksgiving Day pay to employees absent the day before and after the
holiday.  Trouble is, you can’t deny pay to those legitimately ill.  But
what’s legitimate?  Tough to decide these days of often miraculously easy
doctors’ certificates.

Glenn L. Martin, Baltimore aircraft manufacturer has another solution:  When
you decide you want to sweeten up the holiday kitty, pick Black Friday to
add to the list.  That’s just what Martin has done.  Friday after
Thanksgiving is the company’s seventh paid holiday.

We’re not suggesting more paid holidays just to get out of a hole.  But, if
you can make a good trade in bargaining, there are lots of worse things than
having a holiday on a day that was half holiday anyway.  Shouldn’t cost too
much for that reason, either.

So it appears the first use of the term “Black Friday” referred to employee absenteeism.

In the early 1960’s the term was coined in Philadelphia and referred to the massive traffic jams created by people shopping on the day after the Thanksgiving Day Parade – Gimbels sponsored the parade in Philadelphia.  The whole day was such a headache for police that they dubbed it “Black Friday” (and “Black Saturday”).

Philadelphia merchants, however, did not appreciate the term and pushed to change it to “Big Friday”.  Reporters at The Philadelphia Inquirer insisted that the term be used and eventually even television news picked up on “Black Friday”.  To deal with negative connotations, the idea of businesses getting “into the black” made its debut sometime in the 1980’s.

Nate the Great

For years I’ve avoided Black Friday, well like the Black Plague.  Today I had to venture out for a few groceries and I thought as long as I stayed away from the stores with big ticket items to sell I’d be okay.

Standing in line to checkout at Sprouts, I glanced over to my left and saw a young man, maybe 13-15 years old, reaching for a cooking magazine.  He looked my way and gave me a wave.  I glanced away for a second and then back and he waved again.  He then walked up to me and asked if he could talk to me.  I said, “Sure”.  He stuck out his hand and introduced himself as Nathan, but he was called “Nate the Great”.  He wanted to know my name and I told him but he seemed to have a bit of difficulty latching on to it (asking my name again a few times).

He wanted to know what I was doing for Christmas, and he wanted to let me know (more than once) he was going over to neighbor Jake’s house to bake cookies during Christmas break.  There were some pauses in our conversation while I chatted with his mom and he would come back and ask again if he could talk to me.  I suspect that Nate has Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism (difficulties interacting socially, repetitive behavior).

Some people might have been annoyed with Nate on a hustle-bustle-grabby shopping day like “Black Friday” has become.  There is no “gotta-have-it-deal” that would have made me as happy as my encounter with “Nate the Great” – I was already having a good day but I walked out of Sprouts with an even bigger smile on my face and the memory of an encounter I won’t soon forget.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2013.

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