The history of Black Friday may interest you, and it’s a long way from what it has been turned into. The earliest known use of "Black Friday" to refer to the day after the American Thanksgiving and occurred in the journal, ‘Factory Management and Maintenance’, for November 1951, and again in 1952. Here it referred to the practice of workers calling in sick on the day after Thanksgiving, in order to have a four-day weekend.

When did Black Friday start?

Other accounts relate to a different story. The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied in 1869. Not thanksgiving holiday shopping but to a financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869. Two notoriously ruthless Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits. On that Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unravelled, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers. reports: “The most commonly repeated story behind the Thanksgiving shopping-related Black Friday tradition links it to retailers. As the story goes, after an entire year of operating at a loss (“in the red”) stores would supposedly earn a profit (“went into the black”) on the day after Thanksgiving, because holiday shoppers blew so much money on discounted merchandise. Though it’s true that retail companies used to record losses in red and profits in black when doing their accounting, this version of Black Friday’s origin is the officially sanctioned—but inaccurate—story behind the tradition”.

That leaves you with a wide choice of reasons behind Black Friday. What we do know without a doubt is that this idea started in America. When it comes to imaginative ideas to boost the retail trade, American retailers are very talented.

Blame America, they started it

The real history behind Black Friday, may be traced back to Philadelphia in the 1950’s. Police in the city of Philadelphia used the term to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving, when hordes of shoppers and tourists flooded into the city in advance of a big inter-military football game held on that Saturday every year. Not only were the police unable to take the day off, but they had to work extra-long shifts dealing with the additional crowds and traffic.

The origins of Black Friday in the United Kingdom are different. The Police and NHS in Britain used the term to refer to the Friday before Christmas – one of the biggest nights of the year for office parties.

Blame Amazon

Amazon introduced Black Friday offers to their UK customers in 2010, but it wasn't until 2013 when Asda took part that it really started to take off. According to the BBC, last year it is estimated that over £10bn was spent over the Black Friday period with £2.5bn being splurged in a single day. But now it isn’t just a single day, it goes on for many days or weeks.

It seems that France was one of the first European countries to adopt Black Friday. It didn’t take long to reach Portugal. According to Amazon, "a pioneer of the event in France," French consumers have "appropriated" the event, and the majority of them (65%) see it as "the real start of Christmas shopping." So much so that the second half of November is likely to feature a high concentration of purchases.

What about Portugal?

Figures for Portugal are a little harder to obtain. It looks as if Portuguese stores started to promote Black Friday in 2012. Some outlets started the discounts on November 8. FNAC is mentioned as the first store to offer Black Friday discounts.

Whoever started it, everyone is now promoting Black Friday, and almost nonstop. What most consumer research organisations report is that it is rare that the discounts are any different, it’s just another way to encourage us into the stores.

According to the UK ‘Which’ magazine, when they investigated Black Friday deals in 2020, they found that 85% of products in the previous Black Friday 'sales' had already been available for the same price or less in the six months before.

Shop with care and don’t believe the hype

The message is clear, shop with care. Only buy what you actually need and beware of unknown brands. Maybe you will get a good bargain but expect promotions to go on for quite a while yet. The stores just want your money but in these hard economic times, don’t fall for it. Discounts are here to stay.

No need to rush, there are other deals coming, they will just have a different name.


Resident in Portugal for 50 years, publishing and writing about Portugal since 1977. Privileged to have seen, firsthand, Portugal progress from a dictatorship (1974) into a stable democracy. 

Paul Luckman