By Phil Wahba

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Macy's Inc <M. N> said on Monday that most of its stores will open on the U. S. Thanksgiving Day holiday for the first time in its history, in a sign of how competitive the holiday season is shaping up.

Macy's will open the doors at most of its 800 namesake department stores, at 8 p.m. on Thursday, November 28. The company said the shift was voluntary for workers and that the move was "consistent" with what many rivals are doing.

The name of company, which has sponsored New York's Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade since 1924, is virtually synonymous with the holiday.

Traditionally, retailers have waited until Black Friday, the day after the Thanksgiving, to start their big end-of-the-year push for sales.

U. S. retailers have extended their Black Friday hours every year in recent years to get a jump on the sales events that kick off the holiday season, when they earn more than a third of their annual sales in the holiday season.

Many retailers, including Macy's, reported disappointing second-quarter sales, pressuring them to try to make up those sales during the holiday season.

Macy's opened most of its stores at midnight in 2011 and 2012 to kick off the Black Friday sales after opening later in the morning in prior years. But some of its rivals have opened earlier and earlier, pressuring Macy's.

Last year, Macy's rival Lord & Taylor, owned by Hudson's Bay Co <HBC. TO>, opened some stores for business on Thanksgiving for the first time. Sears Holdings Corp's <SHLD. O> namesake chain was also open.

In 2012, Target Corp <TGT. N> opened at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving, three hours earlier than a year earlier, when it was closed on Thanksgiving.

Macy's said in a statement that the earlier opening was to cater to shoppers who prefer to start shopping earlier.

One associate in the men's sportswear section at the Macy's flagship in Manhattan said he volunteered to work on Thanksgiving.

"I'm going to gladly work that shift because I don't want to work on Black Friday," he said.

But another associate said Thanksgiving with her family was too "sacred" for her to go to work.

Last year, several petitions were created on website Change.org suggesting that chains keep their doors shut on Thanksgiving, which is a major national, non-denominational holiday in the United States. Change.org is a website that allows people to create and sign petitions.

Rowland H. Macy opened R. H. Macy & Co as a dry goods store in New York City in 1858.

(Reporting by Phil Wahba in New York; Editing by Carol Bishopric)

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