How did such a depressing-sounding nickname become the kickoff to the bonanza of holiday shopping season? It turns out, the term Black Friday didn't always have such merry origins.

Today, the "black" in the moniker refers to the fact that the day after Thanksgiving typically marks the time of year when retailers start turning a profit. According to National Retailers Federation spokeswoman Kathy Grannis, the average retailer makes 40 percent of his annual sales between Thanksgiving and Dec. 31.

But the term Black Friday was originally coined in the 1960s, when retailers would sponsor big parades on the day after Thanksgiving in downtowns all over the country. It was a ploy to get consumers out of the house and near stores.

"As such, some people would start shopping right after the parade," Grannis said. "Some police departments over the years [called it "Black" Friday] because of all the traffic and congestion it would cause."

The term started in Philadelphia, then spread to cities across the country as weary police departments hoped to discourage the inevitable mobs the day after Thanksgiving.

According to researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake, retailers unsuccessfully tried to spin the dark phrase into "Big Friday" in the 1970s and '80s, but it didn't catch on. It wasn't until the 1990s that they linked the moniker to the black ink on balance sheets, marking the year's first profit for many stores.