Every Boxing Day morning, Sue Portas rises at dawn with a twinkle in her eye.
Santa has come and gone, but the childlike thrill for the Calgary mom lies in the hours ahead.
She'll perk some strong coffee, pour it in a travel mug, then drive out to Edmonton to meet her sister, just as she's done the past seven years.
"It's a tradition," she says. "It's one morning a year we can run out the door and just have a good time together."
Last year, the 35-year-old entered The Children's Place at South Edmonton Common to find another shopper thrusting a little pair of jeans in her face.
"They're 69 cents," the woman said. "I'll take two pairs," Ms. Portas hastily replied.
"[My five-year-old daughter is]just growing into them now," she says. "She's not going to care that it's last year's colour and style."
The jeans were marked down from $29.50, she says, an absolute steal that made it worth holding onto them until they fit Madilyn, 5, and Alexa, 3.
Ms. Portas and her peers are serious shoppers. Some Boxing Day enthusiasts delay Christmas gift-giving until they return from the sales.
Others scoop multiple items off the shelves and only evaluate their purchases at home after the hysteria wears off, often returning the things they don't need.
But whatever their strategy, it's best not to stand in their way.
Last year when Gillian Kilpatrick, then manager of a clothing shop in Barrie, Ont., arrived at work Boxing Day morning, she had to reach her arm in front of one woman and jingle her keys in the shopper's face so she could unlock the doors and open the store.
"She had both feet planted," Ms. Kilpatrick says. "She was bound and determined to be first in the store."
One of the feet planters at Toronto's Yorkdale Shopping Centre today will be 18-year-old Angee Lenis. By Monday, she and her friends had already scoped out the shops and picked out what clothes they will grab for themselves early Boxing Day morning.
"We're planning to be here when the mall opens," she says. "Even though we know we might not be getting the best deals, we just like being able to say we got them on Boxing Day."
While her passion for retail is impressive, by far the most serious shoppers on Boxing Day are those haunting the electronics shops. Nasser Kamani, an avid sales-scoper on RedFlagDeals.com, says he doesn't even sleep the night before in order to stake out his place in line. It's a tradition - and the best crack he has all year at getting a monster deal.
"Best thing to do is have Christmas dinner and a few drinks," he says. "Take some beach chairs, dress warm and wait outside Best Buy or Future Shop around 2 a.m. … maybe after a late movie. Then wait until 6 a.m. and buy everything you want!"
Donning all his snowboarding gear, Steven Kim of Mississauga is usually in line outside an electronics store before 5 a.m. on Dec. 26. He hopes to be there with his uncles today, armed with flyers they scanned days ahead of time. Mr. Kim wants a 40-inch flat-screen television and will likely scoop up other electronics while in the store.
"I know a lot of people might think, 'You're crazy, why do you go this early?' But if you're there with your family, it's tradition," he says. "Plus, there's no pressure that you have to get something for somebody else [for Christmas]- it's that little extra gift for yourself."
Victor Vilas, district manager for Best Buy stores in British Columbia, says he's seen people out at noon on Christmas Day wanting to be the first to buy video games and portable DVD players when the stores open 18 hours later.
A lot of these shoppers are hopeful, earnest gamblers - waiting in most lineups guarantees them nothing.
One year Mr. Vilas met a father waiting hours in line to buy a printer for his son. He was paces away from the counter when another shopper bought the last one.
"It's devastating to some people," Mr. Vilas says, though he found the father a similar printer. "You might wait in the lineup for hours, but depending on demand for the product, you might not get it."
By Monday this week, websites such as RedFlagDeals.com were already abuzz with people hunting for the newest electronics and planning to skip the snaking lineups altogether. With online sales at stores such as Future Shop beginning on Christmas Eve, shoppers don't even have to leave home.
Earlier this week, Brian Younger, a deal-hunter from Redwood Meadows, Alta., near Calgary, said he'd already mapped his plan of attack.
"Last year I completed virtually all of my Boxing Day shopping by the end of Christmas Day, spending about $2,000," he says. "No getting up early, no standing in line for hours, no crush of people and it's much less stressful."
The sour state of the economy has spurred many people to jump the gun on Boxing Day sales, since many stores have already lopped prices significantly.
Ms. Portas scouted the malls earlier this week. "I don't know how good the deals are going to be, because they've already started slashing prices," she says. "How much lower can they go?"
But will she still be out there, wading through the crowds, despite her skepticism?
"We'll go anyway," she says. "It's tradition."
Wary about stepping out into the Boxing Day mania? Don't get trampled by the masses, but don't leave the mall disappointed either. Here are tips from our Boxing Day veterans:
- Research what you want ahead of time. Stick to your plan before scoping out other unadvertised deals later.
- Know the layout of the store so you can make a beeline for the stuff you want.
- Compare prices. That Boxing Day deal might not be a steal after all.
- Wear comfortable, loose clothing and good shoes - warm ones if you're waiting outside.
- Pack snacks and water to keep your energy up.
- Remember to say please and thanks - it is the holidays, after all.