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Holiday season is kicking into high gear, as evidenced by the ravening hordes of shoppers stampeding through stores all across America looking for Black Friday deals. My family and I joined the fray, stomachs still full from lunch at the family’s Thanksgiving reunion yesterday. After a couple of years, banding together on Black Friday in a united hunt for goodies has become every bit as much a family tradition as the reunion that proceeds it.

After Thanksgiving lunch, relatives from near and far pull out their sales flyers, converge in the living room, and four generations lend their voice to drawing up price-matching battle plans. Shopping the day after Thanksgiving isn’t just a madhouse, it’s war—and my family’s combined tactical expertise in this area is the Shopper’s equivalent to Sun Tzu. United, we have a common mission: divide & conquer—scouts hold the place in line for high ticket items, runners are deployed to get the goods, and defenders guard baskets from opportunistic looters, make sure the handoffs from scouts to runners go smoothly, and hold down the fort while shopping’s underway.

The offensive generally starts around 9pm, and lasts until around 11am (though this year began even earlier), with scouts trudging in, legs chilled from hours waiting on concrete floors, battle-hardened runners with tales of being rammed and run-over by shopping carts, and defenders who’ve single-handedly managed to protect the family’s loot from scores of would-be snatchers. It’s a hard-won victory, but after the fleet of SUVs, cars, and trucks have been loaded, we  return  to Central Command (aka: Grandma’s House), and assemble together one last time to toast the day’s success over wassail, hot chocolate, or triple shot expresso for the ones who need to remain awake. We’re proud veterans of the yearly shopping siege, and have a blast swapping war stories from years gone by along with the latest ones added today.

Training for Black FridayFor a family with very active representation in the US military, it’s a wonderful change of pace to be able to tell tales of a campaign where there were no casualties, no fear of losing a loved one…it’s a comical campaign the entire family enjoys, despite the occasional horror stories like irate grannies swinging walkers at your head for getting the last flat screen.

This holiday season, as you gaze with satisfaction at your own Black Friday swag, or breathe out a sigh of relief that you skipped the madness to have a day of peace, I hope we can all remember to be thankful for our families, our loved ones, & our friends. For those in the military, I wish you and your loved ones the best of luck for the duration of your service; and for those who are or will be deployed, I hope that one day you too will be able to swap stories when you come safely home.