Every year, crowds head to malls for Black Friday bargains. Stress is a given. But on the big shopping day, it doesn't have to be only about the hustle, bustle and craziness of frantic shoppers vying for a Zhu Zhu Pet Hamster.
This year, area shopping centers hope to boost holiday spirit and sales by offering a variety of free, fun events beyond the traditional Santa photo-op. Are the children restless at The Avenue at White Marsh? Take a break and play a rocking video game. Feeling overwhelmed at Belvedere Square? You can listen to jazz, get a bite to eat and sip some wine. But if it's a winter wonderland you're wishing for, head to Arundel Mills Mall, where it snows on the hour in Pinball Court.
Whether you're sticking close to Baltimore or traveling a bit further, here are the best bets for customers looking to browse, buy and be merry:
Arundel Mills Mall guarantees a white holiday season. Well, almost. Shoppers in Pinball Court endure a brief snowstorm without winter winds nipping at their noses. The snow occurs on the hour 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays through Christmas Eve. Black Friday shopping begins at 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving and lasts until 10 p.m. Friday. The first 25,000 shoppers receive scratch-offs for a chance to win a 2010 Toyota Prius.
If you go: Arundel Mills is at 7000 Arundel Mills Circle, Hanover. Call 410-540-5100 or go to simon.com.
The Avenue at White Marsh
For a breath of fresh air, visit the Avenue at White Marsh on Friday. Old Navy's Gobblepalooza event allows families to play "Rock Band" and seek fashionable bargains.
If you go: The Avenue at White Marsh is at 8125 Honeygo Blvd. Call 410-931-0411 or go to theavenueatwhitemarsh.com.
Belvedere Square considers its Moonlight Merriment event an Un-Black Friday. The shopping center quashes stress by offering gourmet food and wine, as well as live jazz from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
If you go: Belvedere Square is at 540 E. Belvedere Ave. Call 410-464-9773 or go to belvederesquare.com.
Hunt Valley Towne Centre
Santa makes a grand entrance via sleigh at 6 p.m. Friday in Hunt Valley. Sparks Elementary School's choir kicks off the festivities at 5:45 p.m. Caribou Coffee and Vaccaro's provide refreshments.
If you go: Hunt Valley Towne Centre is at 118 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley. Call 410-785-3770 or go to shophuntvalley.com.
The mall opens at 5 a.m., so a free cup of coffee from Chick-fil-A is almost necessary to start the day. In addition, the first 250 shoppers get coupons and gifts. Marley Station keeps a 15-year tradition on track by displaying its holiday train garden through December.
If you go: Marley Station is at 7900 Ritchie Highway, Glen Burnie. Call 410-766-2033 or go to simon.com.
Santa arrives at Mondawmin Mall as part of a celebratory parade at 2 p.m. Saturday. It features marching bands, steppers, a choir and more.
If you go: Mondawmin Mall is at 2401 Liberty Heights Ave. Call 410-523-1534 or go to mondawmin.com.
National Harbor makes a Black Friday road trip worthwhile. Ebenezer Scrooge hosts the lighting of its 65-foot tree at 5 p.m. A fireworks display, a light show and the "Spirit of Christmas Stage Show" follow (Scrooge probably won't act like such a Scrooge after all that). The rest of the weekend, catch light shows on the half-hour after 5:30 p.m. and the stage show at 6 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Consider heading back noon-8 p.m. Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday for the holiday market, which features crafts, food, hot chocolate, hot cider and roasted chestnuts.
If you go: National Harbor is at 150 National Plaza, National Harbor. Call 877-628-5427 or go to nationalharbor.com.
Prime Outlets, Queenstown
The Prime Outlets' Midnight Madness Pajama Jam crowd starts growing as early as 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Between midnight and 8 a.m. Friday, the first 500 pajama-clad customers to visit guest services receive a goody bag that includes coupons and Jockey sleepwear. Some bags even include gift certificates for the outlets.
If you go: The Prime Outlets are at 441 Outlet Center Drive, Queenstown. Call 410-827-8699 or go to primeoutlets.com.