By: Mary Fran Bontempo

Traditionally, Black Friday is all about the shopping.  Get up early, shop til you drop, then go home and gorge on Thanksgiving leftovers.  Not a bad plan, but with a little creativity, you can turn Black Friday shopping into an outing with sights and sounds to get you into the seasonal spirit at no extra cost to your budget.

The key is simple: shop at venues that recognize how stressful the holiday gift hunt is and that make an attempt to provide folks parting with their hard-earned money a little respite from the exhaustion.  Check out some ideas below….

Sure, the mall is an obvious choice–lots of stores, lots of stuff, all under one roof.  But consider changing it up this year, and taking a trip to Center City Philly to not only shop in the fabulous, historical Wanamaker building–currently Macy’s–but to take in some wonderful Christmas traditions that don’t cost a dime.

As a child, and then with my own kids, an annual holiday trip to Wanamakers (1300 Market St.) was an absolute must.  The astounding light show in the grand court was not to be missed, and the same holds true today.

A few years back, Macy’s took over the location, (on the National Historic Register and worth seeing as an architectural beauty), and revamped the holiday light show.  If you’ve never seen it, take some time to put down your bags and meet at the grand court on the first floor, by the giant statue of the Eagle (another Philly landmark) on the hour to witness a glorious ode to Christmas made up of 100,000 brilliant LED lights dancing and twinkling to music from the grand organ accompanied by narration from Julie Andrews.  (Not the original narrator, John Facenda, but an okay substitute.)  You’ll be awestruck by the experience–and by the looks on the faces of the children watching–precious!  And once you’re done, you can get right back in the game and continue shopping.  It is Macy’s, of course!  (Show hours starting 11/29 through 12/31 at 10 AM, 12 noon, 2, 4, 6, and 8 PM.)

Before you leave Macy’s, it’s time to take in one more Christmas treat, for the store hosts another beloved Christmas tradition in the form of the Dickens Christmas Village, found on the store’s third floor.  As you wander the Christmas Village, you’ll be treated to scenes from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, where Ebeneezer Scrooge encounters his three ghosts before realizing the error of his ways and embracing the magic of Christmas.  Charming scenes of Victorian England with animated figures take the viewer on an enchanting journey.  Just the thing to remind even the most stalwart shopper of the real meaning of the season.  (Show hours 11/29 through 12/31 from 10 AM to 7 PM.)

Once you’re ready for a little fresh air, leave Macy’s and head to the Comcast building at 17th and Arch Streets and get ready to witness the Comcast Holiday Spectacular, a celebration of the season featuring magnificent holiday images, including skaters, Christmas lights and Santa landing his sleigh on the steps of the Philly Art Museum on a massive 25 x 83 foot video screen with brilliant LED lighting.  And special glasses make the entire experience a 3-D extravaganza!  The show lasts 16 minutes and runs on the hour (except at 5 on weekdays, to give business folks clear paths) from 11/28 until 1/1/2011.

If driving into town isn’t your thing, consider heading up to Peddler’s Village in Lahaska, PA for an enchanting day of shopping featuring 70 shops, 8 different restaurants and a bucolic atmosphere in beautiful Bucks County.  There are plenty of options for everyone on your gift list and outlet shopping as well across the street from the village.  For the holiday season, trees and shops twinkle with thousands of lights, while the annual Gingerbread House Competition awaits shoppers in the gazebo located near the Pine, Wreath and Candle Christmas Shop.  Needless to say, the gingerbread houses put my sad little annual attempt to shame.  You’ll be amazed by the detail and creativity, let alone the skill required when you view these miniature holiday houses.  A true treat for not only the eyes, but the nose as well.  Nothing says “Christmas” like the smell of gingerbread!

If you’re not a Philly or thereabouts gal, check out your own local large department stores as well as boutiques.  Many offer holiday entertainment which can be a balm for any overwhelmed Black Friday shopper.  And if you just want to get the gift buying binge over with and get on home, take a stroll through your neighborhood, preferably holding the hand of a loved one, and just admire the industriousness of those early decorators.  Take some time to soothe your spirit, especially after you’ve emptied your wallet.

So there you have it.  Black Friday shopping with treats for the eyes, ears and nose that all say “Happy Holidays” and won’t tack another penny onto your seasonal bills.  Explore, enjoy and whittle down that shopping list!