Dinner, dessert, then doorbusters.
That was the order of events at many suburban Thanksgiving celebrations Thursday, as large retailers opened their doors on the actual holiday to get a jump on Black Friday blockbuster sales.
The controversial decision to expand Black Friday shopping to include "Gray Thursday" drew criticism from many families and retail workers, who say it infringed on their holiday.
But money talks, and retailers were confident many shoppers would sacrifice family time for bargain deals.
"(My family's) got food waiting for me when I get back," said Joe Valentine, 23, of Hanover Park, who waited in line at a Best Buy store in Schaumburg for six hours on Thursday before the doors finally opened at 6 p.m.
Valentine had his eyes on a new laptop, on sale for $177.79, that typically would have cost $400.
He said it was his first time standing in line during a doorbusters holiday sale, though two years ago he spent Black Friday working at a Toys "R" Us store.
"I think standing in line is better," Valentine said.
Black Friday was once for early birds rather than night owls. Stores used to open at 6 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving with their Black Friday specials. Then, to get a leg up on each other, they started opening earlier and earlier, backing up to 3 a.m., then midnight, and now as early as 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
That's when the Toys "R" Us store on Golf Road in Schaumburg opened this year, though shoppers there say they didn't wait in line as long as those down the block at Best Buy.
Tony and Gaby Spedale of Lakemoor said they only waited 40 minutes, deciding to stop at Toys "R" Us in between two Thanksgiving dinners; her family lives in Barrington, and his is in Palatine, and the toy store was a convenient stop.
They were looking to buy a Power Wheels ATV for their 18-month-old daughter.
"It's on sale till Saturday, but we want to make sure we get one," Tony Spedale said.
One shopper, Jennifer Serrano, had the recent downstate tornadoes on her mind as she walked the aisles at Toys "R" Us.
Serrano, 30, of Roselle, said she decided to sponsor a family of six from Washington, Ill. who lost their home in the Nov. 17 tornado. She's been collecting toiletries and basic essentials for the entire family, but decided to come to the toy store Thursday night to get Christmas presents for the family's four children.
Serrano is also sending gifts to another downstate family of three who wasn't affected by the tornadoes, but is also in need during the holidays. She said she found out about both families through a charity page on Facebook.
On Thursday, Serrano and her 9-year-old daughter Alexis loaded up their cart with dolls, games and arts and crafts. They plan to send the gifts downstate so the families have them by Christmas.
"I'm trying to teach (my kids) to not take anything for granted, and that it's good to give back to the community," Serrano said.
"Gray Thursday" is part of a trend known as "holiday creep," which has led stores to start selling Christmas items in August.
A recent Wall Street Journal story that floated around social media this week claimed Black Friday does not necessarily offer better deals than at other sales throughout the year.
Many consumers apparently believe otherwise, so much so that they're willing to brave cold temperatures for several hours to get the best deal.
Homero Peres, 17, of Streamwood, was the first in line at the Best Buy in Schaumburg, arriving at the crack of dawn on Thursday to guarantee he got a new 50-inch flat-screen TV.
He said he kept begging his parents to let him go stand in line, and they finally acquiesced. They even stopped by and brought him something to eat.
Next in line was Connor Williams, 18, of Wauconda. He said he got to the store at 5 a.m. -- a half-hour after Peres, who he saw huddled in a blanket on the ground.
Williams said he invited Peres to warm up in his car, and the two watched movies there until more people started arriving and they returned to their spots in line.
"I had a lot of fun," Williams said. "I guess I could be at Thanksgiving, but I'd rather be here."