Back to

The Debunker: What's the Biggest Shopping Day of the Year?

by Ken Jennings

If the Plymouth Pilgrims could see the orgy of overeating and megastore-shopping that their descendants have made of their holiday, I think we can all agree: they would feel nothing but pride. But how much do we really know about our November carb carnival? Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame, talks turkey about the Thanksgiving misinformation we’ve been swallowing all these years.

The Debunker: Is “Black Friday” the Biggest Shopping Day of the Year?

When I was a kid, I remember my parents telling me that the day after Thanksgiving was the biggest day of the year for shopping malls. Like most six-year-olds, I didn’t follow sales closely, so this seemed counterintuitive. “Is it because of people lining up to return their Thanksgiving presents?” I asked, in all seriousness. “Yes,” said my father. “Yes, it is.” I believed this to be true for the next five to ten years.

The media has spent decades lazily peddling the story that “Black Friday” is the year’s biggest shopping day. In fact, it wasn’t even close to the top of the chart. During the 1990s, the International Council of Shopping Centers routinely had the day after Thanksgiving as the eighth-biggest shopping day of the year. It was never higher than #5. It turns out that all the “Black Friday” sales hype never resulted in record-breaking sales volume. The Saturday before Christmas, aka “Super Saturday,” was actually the biggest retail day of the year. Many writers, including, tried their best to debunk the myth.

But let me help you out by debunking the debunkers: since 2003, Black Friday sales have boomed. In an amazing example of self-fulfilling prophecy, the day after Thanksgiving actually is the biggest shopping day of the year now, slightly ahead of the two weekends before Christmas. This change coincides with the rise of online shopping, in the form of “Cyber Monday.” Evidently retailers’ full-court press for Black Friday recognition is working. But that might be cold comfort the next time you’re trampled to death by a frenzied mob racing for the $39 Blu-Ray players.

Quick Quiz: Thomas Harris’s 1975 novel Black Sunday is about a terrorist plot to attack what?

Ken Jennings is the author of Because I Said So!, Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at or on Twitter as @KenJennings.