For most people, Black Friday elicits one of two reactions: panic over whether you’ll beat the crowds to get the best deals; or disdain, as in, you actively avoid coming within 500 feet of any mall.
But for Jessica Kikuchi, the stressful shopping holiday actually brings back good memories. Growing up, everyone knew she was busy the day after Thanksgiving because she, her mom and her aunts would wake up before dawn to hit up the big sales — not only to score savings, but also to get in some family bonding time.
Now that the Los Angeles native and fundraiser for UCLA has started a family of her own, she’s not always home to participate in the frenzy. But here’s what the tradition has meant to her and her family over the years.

How did Black Friday go down in your family?

My mom has four sisters, so they’re kind of nuts. They would each bring their own newspaper to Thanksgiving dinner and then go through all the ads and plan out the route. From the time I was in 5th or 6th grade, I remember participating. Some of my aunts who lived farther away would even sleep over so they could all wake up early and go together.
We’d usually start at Target and make our way to the biggest mall. When I was little, I would be the one to stand in line for them — or while they were standing in line, I would go chase something down. I was like the family gopher.

How big was your Black Friday entourage?

It was always at least five of us: my mom, three of the more hardcore aunts, and me. I’m the oldest of the kids, so even if I had no one to shop for or nothing to buy for myself, I was brought along to help and stand in line. Eventually, as my sister and cousins got older, it became bigger — like two cars’ worth of people — but it was always at least five of us.

What’s the earliest you woke up? Did you ever just stay up the whole night?

Oh no, I think the food coma was always too strong. Eating that much and trying to go shopping right after is not the best, but I’d say probably 4 o'clock. We would always meet up at someone’s house, consolidate cars, get our shopping lists together. It was very much a group bonding activity. At most, we would go an hour before opening to get in line.

What did your shopping game plan look like with that many of you?

There was always a strategy, a divide-and-conquer thing. We would figure all that out the night before and talk about it in the car on the way. It always felt serious but light at the same time. Serious as in, they really wanted to get these things and meant business when they went into the store to get them, but it was always fun for us to do together. We’d bypass each other with our carts, check in and see who got what. And then there were always those things that ended up in people's carts that no one intended on buying; they just got there from the fever of Black Friday shopping.

What was your biggest Black Friday win?

One year, during the Tickle Me Elmo craziness, one of my cousins had her heart set on one. And that was a year that we got to Target an hour before opening, and my aunt somehow got one. When we got to the toy aisle, all the Tickle Me Elmos were gone. But somehow she happened upon one that had been discarded by somebody in another section of the store.
Jessica Kikuchi and family
Jessica, her mom, three aunts and all the cousins in one place.

When did you start to ease up on Black Friday?

I left Los Angeles for college at UC San Diego, but because it was so close, I was home for every holiday. I did miss one Thanksgiving the year I studied abroad, and another recently because I’m married now and split the holidays with my husband’s family. The first time I told my friends that I was going to spend Thanksgiving with them, they were all like, “But what about Black Friday shopping with the aunties?!” It’s always been a thing, waking up at some ungodly hour to go Black Friday shopping with my family. It’s kind of a sacred holiday.
The last few years I could've skipped Black Friday altogether, but I’m pregnant now, and because we need so much stuff in the next few months, I’m thinking it could be worth going this year.

Do you have your eye on anything in particular?

My husband and I were just talking about Black Friday last night because there's this Dyson vacuum cleaner that’s normally $500 and Target’s going to have it for $250.
We’ll be with my husband’s family in Sacramento for Thanksgiving this year, and in the area they live, there’s only one Target. So the thought of being at this one Target for the greater Sacramento area, versus driving five miles in any one direction from my house in Los Angeles, and thinking of what that crowd could be like is making me not want to try.

Is your husband and his family also big on Black Friday shopping?

No, I get the sense his family has never been as hardcore about Black Friday as my family. So to be like, “Yeah I’m waking up at 5 o’clock and going and waiting in line at Target,” is not something I think they would get on board with. Not that there would be judgment, but it just never felt like a priority for them.
But we’ll see in Sacramento. My husband actually wants this vacuum cleaner just as much as I do. So if he gets really inspired to wake up early or maybe stop by Target on the way home from dinner, that could be a thing.

When was the last time you went Black Friday shopping with your side of the family?

I did Target with my mom, my sister and one aunt two years ago. I remember not even really seeing anything in the ad that I particularly wanted. It was just as much about family bonding as it was for the actual shopping. I think my mom and aunts just had a good time together.
My family is really into shopping and gift-giving throughout the year, too. Every holiday is a thing. We get gifts for Easter and Valentine's Day, and they’re just a little bit crazy on that front. So Black Friday plays into that kind of perfectly. Also, I think because they grew up really poor, now having the means to go out and buy some things and do it together is part of what drives the family tradition. But they’re hilarious and crazy, and so that’s also part of it.
But if they said, “OK, Jess, let’s go. We’re going to meet at Auntie so-and-so's house at 4:30,” I’d probably still be down.