The stock market closed at 1:00 p.m. Friday so Americans everywhere could head out into the gridlock and high tension of post-Thanksgiving Day holiday shopping. Admit it, even your best Foolish instincts get tweaked on this weekend. Part of you thinks you should just stay on the couch because you can't burn much money that way. Then another part of you thinks you could save money if you hit the stores now for big deals.

Don't go out there unprepared. We've got tips and inside information all over The Motley Fool. First off, in today's Take, plan your attack by finding out if this really is the biggest shopping weekend of the year. Then learn what retailers are doing to rope you in.

After that, find out how to save money shopping online this year. Then get the lowdown from our Community on the deals as well as the frauds on eBay (you'll need a trial for our Community to read it -- but it's free, which is cheaper than anything else you're going to get this holiday season).

If all else fails, you can always just shop FoolMart, where satisfaction is guaranteed.

In today's Motley Fool Take:

The Biggest Shopping Day?

The day after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year, right? Certainly that's the conventional wisdom, but like "It don't rain in Indianapolis in the summertime," it turns out to be dead wrong. For the last six years, the post-Turkey mall smash isn't even second, third, or fourth.

According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, these are the top three shopping days for the last six years:

                                         Fri. After
Year  1          2            3         Thanks'g
2001 Sat. 12/22 Sat. 12/15   Fri. 12/21   No. 6
2000 Sat. 12/23 Fri. 12/22   Sat. 12/16   No. 5
1999 Sat. 12/18 Thu. 12/23   Wed. 12/22   No. 8
1998 Sat. 12/19 Wed. 12/23   Tue. 12/22   No. 8
1997 Sat. 12/20 Mon. 12/22   Tue. 12/23   No. 7
1996 Sat. 12/21 Mon. 12/23   Sat. 12/14   Below 10!  

This certainly bolsters the case that most retailers are made or broken each fourth quarter -- except more data reveals that a huge chunk of buying occurs in the fifteen days after Christmas. The joy of statistics is that they allow many different interpretations. Perhaps we have become a nation of procrastinators, rushed to distraction and unable to focus until pressed. Or maybe we have learned to play a high stakes game of chicken with retailers over our loved ones' affections -- holding out until either the stores put everything on sale or we blink.

For those investors who follow retail, the ICSC's website provides strong nourishment. It projects, tracks and analyzes consumer non-auto retail spending patterns this way and that, up and down, in and out. It also provides a few fun facts, such as Santa arrives at most malls on November 16th. Who knew?

How are retailers luring us into their lairs this year? Read on.

Shop Here... Please!

Online retailers have been killing our e-mail boxes with kindness leading up to the holiday season. The relentless slew of bigheartedness includes free shipping, deep discounts, and generous credits towards other product groups, in the case of AMZN). And you can only expect the offers to get better (or worse, depending on your tolerance for spam).

Heck, even churches have started accepting plastic if you're short on cash when the collection plate comes around.

But it's the tactics used by bricks-and-mortar stores battling for foot traffic that have caught our eye. If you happened to flick on the tube for even a moment yesterday, you might have noticed that they're leaving nothing to chance. Stores like KB Toys and some major department stores opened at the crack of dawn -- literally 5:00 a.m. As long as you're out, you may as well stop in at Gap Inc.'s(NYSE: GPS) Old Navy to enter its sweepstakes for the chance to win $25,000. Circuit City(NYSE: CC) has combined the convenience of online shopping with the instant gratification of shopping in person. The store lets you place an order online and then practically do a drive-through pick up of that all-in-one DVD/Xerox machine/photo enlarger/espresso machine.

In perhaps the boldest move to lure trendy young thangs and their allowance into stores, teen retailer Abercrombie & Fitch(NYSE: ANF) features male models, clad only in underwear, greeting shoppers at stores in major cities. Quick, go lock your daughter in her bedroom!

Chances are the sales tactics will only get racier. Though Thanksgiving is the official kick-off of the holiday shopping bender, the last week before Christmas is actually the busiest for retailers, accounting for one third of all holiday sales last year, reports the International Council of Shopping Centers.

While the sales prospects this year don't exactly look grim, they certainly aren't a slam-dunk. The National Retail Federation predicts total holiday retail sales will show the weakest increase (4%) since 1997.

Wonder what those Abercrombie & Fitch models will be wearing on Dec. 24.

Quote of Note

"I like buying companies that can be run by monkeys -- because one day they will be." -- Peter Lynch

Quick Takes

Skies grew darker for United Airlines parent UAL(NYSE: UAL) today when its mechanics voted down a pay cut as part of the cost-cutting measures the company needs to implement in its battle to stave off bankruptcy. The airline is desperately seeking a $1.8 billion federally backed loan before it runs out of cash, but it must slash costs to qualify for the handout. United's pilots, dispatchers, and customer service workers have already approved pay reductions, which will make for uneasy conversation at the company's holiday party later this month if management can't work out a deal with the mechanics. UAL says it needs to cut $5 billion in wages and an additional $7 billion in other expenses over the next five years to turn profitable again. Investors are sweating it out -- or just getting out entirely. Shares dropped some 30% today.

Sealed Air (NYSE: SEE) finally got out from under an asbestos cloud today, but it cost them. The maker of bubble wrap agreed to pay $512.5 million in cash and contribute nine million shares of its stock -- valued at more than $300 million -- to settle all pending and future claims in relation to its 1998 acquisition of the Cryovac packaging business.

The British division of Hasbro(NYSE: HAS) has been fined $7.7 million for anticompetitive behavior. England's Office of Fair Trading said the toy maker prevented distributors from selling merchandise below prices set by the company.

The U.S. stock markets closed today little changed, but October and November represented the largest two-month gain in 27 years, according to Bloomberg. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up about 18% during that period, and the S&P 500 climbed 15%.

Finally, shares of North Pole Enterprises (Ticker: SANTA) rose 10% as President and CEO Kris Kringle predicted another busy December. Many investors are still calling for Kringle's resignation, however, as the jolly bearded fellow still refuses to work from January through November.

And Finally...

Today on Rick Munarriz gets circumspect about the market and the month of November.... How can you tell if a company's increased earnings per share isn't just due to the company buying back shares of its stock?.... You know you could do better with your money than buying that PlayStation. Our Foolanthropy campaign is in full swing.

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Tom Jacobs, LouAnn Lofton, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Matt Richey, Jackie Ross, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim