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Thanks - Peter Funt

I'm thankful that, this year, many merchants were considerate enough to begin Christmas sales shortly after Columbus Day to avoid interfering with Halloween and Thanksgiving.

I'm also thankful that:

* Starbucks managed to put the snowflake designs on its paper cups long before most of the country got any snow.

* The Neiman Marcus Christmas Book -- a catalog so lavish they call it a book -- this year includes a $15,000 edible gingerbread playhouse.

* Kids in North Attleboro, Mass., were spared the agony of waiting for Santa much beyond Halloween, as the Sun Chronicle reported, "The jolly old elf pulled up on a North Attleboro fire truck" on Nov. 5.

* Major retailers have the good sense to stagger their hours the day after Thanksgiving, so we're not all lined up outside the same store at the same time. Macy's opens in most states at 4 a.m., Kohl's at 3 a.m., and Wal-Mart at midnight. In the finest examples of seasonal spirit, Toys R Us will open at 10 p.m., Thursday night, while many Sears stores will open at 7 a.m., Thanksgiving Day.

And, who among us isn't thankful that:

* CBS reporter Susan Koeppen was able to offer advice on how to "avoid the holiday mall madness." Among her tips: "Avoid crowds by shopping during stores' early and late extended hours."

* The New York Times dug up a helpful quote about holiday shopping from Melissa Geick, the manager of a Victoria's Secret store: "Just be prepared to face the music, and know that you're going to wait in line."

* Just in time for holiday buying, a new Wal-Mart opened in Salinas, Calif., less than a mile from the city's other Wal-Mart.

* PC Magazine asked, and answered, this pressing holiday question: "While you're standing in line with your cart, don't you get the nagging feeling you could do better somewhere else?" The solution, according to PC, is to use one of six "shopping apps" that allow you to check how much you're about to overpay while you're waiting to pay.

* Home Shopping Network demonstrated how delightful a Christmas tree looks with brightly wrapped gift bags of Huggable Hangers piled underneath. The pitch: "Spread some holiday tidiness! Wrap up and give a dozen hangers in the fun tote-style bag for the perfect instant gift. Add a Forever Fragrant holiday snowflake as a special touch. What better way to reign in the clutter and ring in the New Year?"

Plus, I'm especially thankful that:

* We now have web sites such as Black-Friday.net, with investigative reporters uncovering stories like the one headlined, "Target 4-Day Pre-Black Friday Ad Leaked." And a web site known as BlackFriday2010.com, which notified its readers, "Black Friday is not an official government holiday."

* The wildly successful online retailer known as Groupon.com had the bright idea to borrow unabashedly from the "Seinfeld" episode about "Festivus," and has renamed this year's holiday season "Grouponicous."

* When it comes to holidays, the general public is apparently no wiser than Congress. A Harris poll indicates that 69 percent of U.S. shoppers won't bother keeping to a budget when Christmas shopping this year.

Most of all, I'm thankful that, for one day, we manage to dodge the creeping commercialism and celebrate what is perhaps the best American holiday, when gifts are replaced by the simpler joys of gathering with family and friends to remember how fortunate and grateful we really are.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Peter Funt is a writer and public speaker. He's also the long-time host of "Candid Camera." A collection of his DVDs is available at www.candidcamera.com.