A guide to the high holidays of holiday shopping

The National Retail Federation estimates that people will spend $630.5 billion this holiday season on gifts for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. As they search for the right presents for their friends and family, they're going to be bombarded with messages about other "holidays" to celebrate.

Many of these "festivities" originated in recent years as people banked on the season's religious and cultural holidays to encourage Americans to shop even more, sometimes at local businesses, or be more charitable to the less fortunate. Others offer some practical benefits, such as helping people to get their presents shipped in time.

With the proliferation of so many of these new "holidays," here's CBS MoneyWatch's gift to you: our "Guide to the High Holidays of the Holiday Season." We hope it'll make your holidays a little more merry and a little less stressful.

Gray Thursday (Nov. 26) -- This had been known as "Thanksgiving" until a few years ago, when retailers began offering shopping deals to people who had grown tired of their relatives and had their fill of turkey. Some stores still offer Turkey Day bargains, such as Walmart (WMT) and Target (TGT), while others such as outdoor equipment provider REI are shutting their doors because of a consumer backlash. Online Thanksgiving Day sales are expected to rise 18 percent this year to $1.6 billion, according to Adobe.

Black Friday (Nov. 27) -- The traditional start of the holiday shopping season has a strange history. According to a 2011 story in CBSPhilly, the Philadelphia police coined the term in 1966 to describe the crowded madness of the season. It was designed to scare away shoppers and it worked.

Eventually, Philadelphia merchant Peter Strawbridge then offered a new explanation for Black Friday, arguing that it was the day retailers' profits went into the black. That's probably less true now than it used to be, but merchants sure see plenty of green on the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday spending hit $50.9 billion in 2014, down from $59.1 billion in 2012.

Small Business Saturday (Nov. 28) -- Started in 2010 by American Express (AXP), it's designed to encourage people to patronize small businesses in their communities. According to the credit card company, 55 percent of U.S. consumers are aware of the day, and 83 percent say Small Business Saturday encourages them to "shop small" year-round. The company estimates that spending on the day reached $14.3 billion in 2014.

Cyber Monday (Nov. 29) -- Ellen Davis of the National Retail Federation coined the term in 2005 to describe the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday. In the days before broadband was widespread, many people found it easier to shop on their work computers because the connection was faster. That's less true today, but many retailers continue to offer Cyber Monday deals.

However, as the holiday season started beginning earlier and e-commerce grew in popularity, it's losing its importance. Still, Adobe (ADBE) expects Cyber Monday sales to hit $3 billion this year, a record.

Giving Tuesday (Dec. 1) -- Launched in 2012 by New York City's 92nd Street Y to celebrate and encourage charitable giving, the initiative takes place on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. It has 30,000 partners in 68 countries, including nonprofits, government agencies and small and large businesses. Donations have seen a 470 percent increase since Giving Tuesday started.

Green Monday (Dec. 14) -- It was coined by eBay (EBAY) in 2009 to describe its busiest shopping day, the second Monday in December. Though its importance has waned in recent years, many retailers such as Amazon (AMZN), Walmart and Target plan to "celebrate" it with online deals for consumers. Sales last year hit $1.6 billion, according to comScore.

Free Shipping Day (Dec. 18) -- Begun in 2007, it marks a day when thousands of merchants offer free shipping with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Day. It has been a success. According to the event's website, consumers spent more than $1 billion on Free Shipping Day in the past two years.

Super Saturday (Dec. 19) -- On the last Saturday before Christmas, malls are crowded with people -- and proscrastinators -- looking for last-minute deals. It's also known as "Panic Saturday" for obvious reasons. This year, some retailers are also jittery after recently posting disappointing quarterly earnings. ShopperTrak, which monitors activity at bricks-and-mortar stores, is forecasting that traffic and sales on Super Saturday will be second only to Black Friday.

Day After Christmas (Dec. 26) -- Though many people are still recovering from their holidays with their relatives, the day after Christmas is a big day for retailers. Consumers are eager to cash in their gift cards or exchange the ugly sweater they got for something they really want. Since the day after Christmas falls on a Saturday this year, it may be even busier than usual.

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.