NEW YORK (AP) — Millions of Americans are expected to head to the stores for gift shopping on the Thanksgiving holiday Thursday in what's quickly becoming a new tradition on a day once dedicated solely to family and feasting.

Just a few years ago when a few stores started opened late on the holiday, the move was met with resistance from workers and shoppers who believed the day should be sacred.

Thanksgiving — in bygone times a holiday meant to give thanks for the harvest — is celebrated with late-afternoon roast turkey meals.

But last year, more than dozen major retailers opened at some point on Thanksgiving evening. And this year, at least half of them — including Target, Macy's, Staples and J.C. Penney — are opening earlier in the evening on the holiday.

Mary Smalls, 40, was at Toys R Us in New York City's Times Square trying to get all her shopping done on Thanksgiving. She said she wanted to avoid heading out on the day after the holiday known as Black Friday.

"I'm going to try to avoid the crowds," said Smalls, who planned to spend $300 or $400 on gifts this year.

The Thanksgiving openings are one way retailers are trying to compete for Americans' holiday dollars. Used to be that the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, was when they'd focus their sales promotions. But increasingly, they've been pushing those promotions earlier on Friday, and eventually into the holiday itself, to grab deal-hungry shoppers' attention.

Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak, which tracks data at 70,000 stores globally, is expecting a sales increase of 3 percent to 5 percent to $3.25 billion to $3.75 billion on Thanksgiving. Last year's figure grew two-fold from the year before.

The National Retail Federation expects 25.6 million shoppers to take advantage of the Thanksgiving openings, down slightly down from last year.

Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman at the retail trade group, said that earlier promotions in the month and shoppers' uncertainty about when they can get the best deals are factors that could lead to fewer shoppers coming out on the holiday.

Not every store is opening on Thanksgiving, though. Some, including GameStop, Costco and Ikea, have said they won't open because they want their workers to enjoy the holiday with their families.

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AP Business Writer Damien Troise in New York contributed to the report.

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