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 looking 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 farther, here are the best bets for customers looking to browse, buy and be merry.

Arundel Mills

Arundel Mills guarantees a white holiday season. Well, almost. Shoppers in Pinball Court endure a brief snowstorm without wind nipping at their noses. Snow occurs on the hour 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 24. Black Friday shopping begins at 11 tonight and lasts until 10 p.m. Friday. The first 25,000 shoppers get 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

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

Belvedere Square

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

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

Marley Station

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

Mondawmin Mall

Santa arrives at Mondawmin Mall as part of a celebratory parade at 2 p.m. Saturday. It features marching bands, steppers and a choir.

If you go: : Mondawmin Mall is at 2401 Liberty Heights Ave. Call 410-523-1534 or go to

National Harbor

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

Prime Outlets, Queenstown

The Prime Outlets' Midnight Madness Pajama Jam crowd starts growing as early as 9 tonight. 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.

If you go: : The Prime Outlets are at 441 Outlet Center Drive, Queenstown. Call 410-827-8699 or go to

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