Making Black Friday a day to help others. Courtesy GabesRun.org

Willa Worsfold will be getting an early start on Black Friday, but she won't be heading to the mall.

Around 6 a.m., she'll be decorating Main Street in Hamilton, Mass., with huge pink balloons, preparing for the 1,500-person annual race that honors the memory of Gabriel Pacione, a family friend who died in a car accident three years ago.

Worsfold, a graphic designer and yoga instructor, helped Gabe's parents and another friend organize the first Gabe's Run in 2007, just three months after the popular student athlete died in a car accident weeks before he was to attend Dartmouth College.

They conceived the run, which raises money for scholarships, as both a way to memorialize Gabe, a star runner, and as a reunion for those who knew and loved him.

They chose the day after Thanksgiving so Gabe's friends, home from college, could participate.

"It really took one year for it to happen and now people change their vacation schedules to be sure that they're here for Thanksgiving," Worsfold said. "You will look around at so many people, messy and dirty and all wearing bright colors, and nobody's thinking about shopping."

On a day that has come to be known for the hordes of shoppers who flood the malls, looking for bargains as the Christmas season gets underway, some women have carved out alternative rituals of their own. Some have no plans to be among the 60 million Americans whom the National Retail Federation says plan to shop, while others have turned a retail ritual into a family one.

Homa Tavangar, who lives outside Philadelphia, had the idea to make Thanksgiving about charity giving while she was writing her book, "Growing Up Global", about parenting with a global mindset.

Using globalgiving.org, a website that offers potential donors a variety of international projects to help finance, she now organizes her extended family into teams of gift-givers.

Armed with laptops, each team chooses charities to receive their funds, ranging from the few dollars a child will bring from her allowance to about $60 each. "It's just so profound," Tavangar said. "We can talk about it throughout the year, we get email updates I can forward to the family... The teenagers, the college students, the grandparents, the little ones, it's really uniting. If you try to keep that group together at the mall, they couldn't stand it."

Tavangar, who lives near the giant King of Prussia Mall, said she enjoys shopping in general, but appreciates the significance of spending this day differently. "This is just a really nice symbol," she said.

Black Friday as a super-shopping day concept has been around for more than a century. But the term didn't become popular until the 1960s, when it became shorthand for -- as everyone probably knows by now -- the day of the year stores made enough money to be "in the black" and out of red ink.

While the day is often about deals, some people just love the energy of shopping among the crowds and chaos, and have made that an intrinsic part of their own Thanksgiving family traditions.

Kathy Barlanti, of Clermont, Fla., said she has been waking at dawn to shop with her daughter, Karen, for the past 25 years.

"We just got up real early and went into the city and just shopped. The Christmas music playing, people all around you in a tizzy, the decorations," said Barlanti, who lived in New York City when her family's shopping ritual began. "You know the holidays are coming and it's a fun time of year. I'll probably do this with Karen till I can't do it anymore."

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