Geek Trivia: Early bird special

Which U.S. president tried to reschedule the national Thanksgiving holiday in an effort to extend the Christmas shopping season?

Editor's note: The Trivia Geek has skipped out early for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, but he was kind enough to leave this Classic Geek, which originally ran on Nov. 22, 2005, for you to snack on until he gets back. 

Americans are mere hours away from one of the most hallowed and acclaimed days ever recognized and celebrated within the United States. Dating back generations, it's a tradition that has affected not just the idle hours of grateful and reveling Americans, but it's also had a profound impact on both the national culture and the national economy.

We speak, of course, of Black Friday. (What -- you were expecting Thanksgiving?) The Friday after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday has long marked the official opening of the Christmas shopping season, affording consumers roughly a full month to amass the hordes of presents that they exchange in that uniquely capitalist interpretation of the annual season of giving.

Retailers dubbed the day after Thanksgiving Black Friday in acknowledgement of the holiday shopping rush that finally pushes stores' balance sheets from red ink (for year-to-date losses) into the black (for year-to-date profits). Any more negative connotations of Black Friday -- like, say, a reaction to the brutal overworking of retail clerks, shelf-stockers, and cashiers by endless throngs of maddening, holiday-stressed, bargain-crazed customers -- are strictly ironic in nature.

That said, the conventional wisdom that Black Friday is the largest or most profitable shopping day of the year -- for North American retailers, at least -- is largely overblown. Figures vary from year to year and source to source, but one consistent trend continues: Black Friday is usually the fifth biggest shopping day of the year, not the first.

The number of shoppers in stores (i.e., floor traffic) is probably highest on Black Friday -- though such figures aren't the easiest to track. However, the two weekends before Christmas typically represent the first through fourth biggest shopping days of the year, as measured by volume of sales.

Sales volume typically spikes on Black Friday, then plummets back down the following Monday. The sales trend then ramps back up as Christmas approaches, with the two Saturdays and two Sundays nearest to but before Christmas eventually overtaking Black Friday in sales volume. (December 23 is always a good bet to be near the top as well.) The last-minute shopper is a statistical -- and economically powerful -- reality.

Despite Black Friday's somewhat overstated reputation, one U.S. president so respected the economic power wielded by the Christmas shopping season that he tried to extend it a week -- by rescheduling Thanksgiving.


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