As I mentioned yesterday, U.S. presidents used to designate the date of Thanksgiving every year, almost always the last Thursday of November. In 1939, a quirk of the calendar meant that November had five Thursdays instead of the usual four and FDR declared the fourth Thursday to be Thanksgiving Day. The move was the first step in his plan to bump Turkey Day up to the next-to-last Thursday instead of the routine last Thursday.
Why? Because, in 1939, the country was still mired in the Great Depression, and Roosevelt theorized that an earlier Thanksgiving would give merchants more time to sell their products before Christmas. He hoped that would mean more spending and more profits, which would lift the country out of the depression. Of course FDR had a little help with the plan; it is believed that Fred Lazarus Jr., the founder of Federated Department Stores (which would later become Macy’s), convinced FDR to expand the number of shopping days before Christmas.
Would you believe that back then, advertising Christmas sales before Thanksgiving was considered bad taste? It’s true. Nowadays, we’re lucky if we don’t see Xmas ads on the day after the Fourth of July! Black Friday has been the single busiest shopping day of the year ever since 2005, and thanks to the volume of sales, it is commonly considered to be the day that merchants go from being in the red (operating at a loss) for the year overall to moving into the black – or turning a profit.
In 2011, experts estimated that some 226 million Americans – that’s seven in 10 good little consumers – went shopping in person or online on Black Friday, ant today that number is predicted to rise again, despite the state of the economy and the massive damage to the Northeast caused by Superstorm Sandy.