The holiday season always sneaks up on us, doesn’t it? Before we know it, Thanksgiving is around the corner, and with it the traditional shopping holiday known as “Black Friday.”

Black Friday, which is the Friday after Thanksgiving, was supposedly named by Philadelphia police officers who dreaded the crowds of shoppers descending on downtown stores for pre-Christmas bargains. However, today the term stands for the first day in which merchants are “in the black,” or profitable, for the year. Traditionally, the day after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year, as customers gear up for Christmas. Store owners take advantage of the shopping influx by lowering prices significantly and offer great bargains at odd hours of the day.

It has become traditional for Black Friday Sales to take place on the day after Thanksgiving, especially in physical store sites along with very early opening hours. However, in recent years these opening hours have become earlier and earlier as retailers attempt to lure Black Friday shoppers into their stores with many stores now open at midnight on the Friday after Thanksgiving and offering special deals until 6 a.m. or noon.

This year, Kohl’s, Macy’s, and Target are just a few of the retailers opening their doors at midnight. Some stores, such as Office Depot, will not open until 6 a.m. Friday morning while others are taking Black Friday to the extreme, opening as early as 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, prompting pundits to rename the day “Black Thursday.”

However, many retailers simply cannot keep their stores staffed with employees during such early opening hours, or those which fall on a holiday, so they have moved into the arena of online sales, which can be held any time. “Cyber Thursday” is the euphemism for online sales held on Thanksgiving Day; “Cyber Monday,” the Monday after Thanksgiving, has also become a popular sale time, catching those shoppers who missed Black Friday or who did not find the deals they wanted on that day.

Shoppers can find great deals both in stores and online by looking in several locations for advertisements and planning shopping accordingly. Start with your local newspapers; the advertising circulars will give you information such as store opening hours and special bargains, plus any coupons required to take advantage of Black Friday sales. Next, search online for Black Friday deals and coupon codes which can be redeemed for additional savings on your purchases; you can find sale information and coupon codes both through retailers’ direct web sites and independent websites which compile Black Friday information.

Plan your shopping based on the sales you most want to visit. Try to be at the store locations immediately before or after opening time; in some cases, you may need to be there earlier. Once stocks are depleted, Black Friday sales values are usually no longer valid, so it is important to get to the store early to be sure you can find the items for which you are looking. If you shop online, be sure that items are in stock for delivery, and be sure to check on shipping charges which can significantly increase your cost.