The traditional start of the Christmas shopping season began on Friday amid high expectations among retailers for big profits.
Known as "Black Friday," the day is one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
Retailers pin hope on this years' Black Friday for making their profits for the year.
Boutiques and mom-and-pop stores saw declining revenue last year as they lost ground to the "big box" department stores and Internet sales. This year some are fighting back with expanded store hours and other promotions, and some malls are opening as early as midnight, several hours ahead of the 5 a.m. openings for some of the bigger department stores.
The long lines and jostling for position actually began over a week ago, with the release of Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii, which drew mobs to electronics stores and sold out within hours. Other electronics, such as a 75-dollar iPod and flat-screen TVs under 1,000 dollars are also expected to attract customers.
While stores are offering expanded hours -- and restocking video game consoles -- other groups are trying to ensure that it is also a politically correct holiday season.
Last year the most important holiday for Christians was virtually banned by many retailers who opted for "happy holidays" or "season's greetings" instead of "merry Christmas," and Jewish Hanukah manorahs were nearly as prevalent as Christmas trees in store decorations. But this year some big stores have signaled that Christmas themes will be back in their advertising messages.
The world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, avoided a boycott by the religious right by issuing a statement saying it "will no longer make corporate contributions to support or oppose controversial issues unless they directly relate to their ability to serve their customers," according to the American Family Association, which was organizing the boycott.
However, Pastor Wiley Drake of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park and a vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention called on Christians to boycott the retailer anyway because it sells birth control pills, and also because it joined the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which supports gay marriage.
Meantime, In Defense of Animals is calling on people not to buy clothing made with fur. On what it calls "Fur Free Friday," the group will hold its annual demonstration on upscale Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles to urge shoppers not to buy fur. Members are also to screen videos showing fur-bearing animals being killed.
"Holidays are a time for celebration and reverence for life, so we're calling on shoppers to respect all life by not buying fur," said IDA spokesperson Bill Dyer. "Ripping the skin off an animal's back simply for the sake of vanity is cruel and unnecessary," he said in remarks published by the Los Angeles City News Service.