However, many of these holiday forecasts were issued in September and October. According to a new Gallup survey of more than 1,000 consumers, the average holiday spending prediction is coming in $82 lower than it was in October, marking the lowest expectation level in four years.
Wall Street's winners and losers
Citigroup expects holiday sales to be soft. It forecast retailers' fourth-quarter same-store sales to improve just 2.1 percent over 2012 including Wal-Mart but up 4.1 percent without the world's largest retailer.
Noting that the 10-year average growth rate in holiday sales is 3.3 percent, Citi expects consumers to trim self-giving and prioritize value as they have smaller budgets this year. Its top picks this season are Dollar General, Macy's and Wal-Mart.
In a note to investors, KeyBanc described its holiday expectations as "generally cautious, with a hint of optimism." Analyst Edward Yruma said high-end names will fare best and suggested that Tiffany, Nordstrom and Lululemon could be among the winners.
(Read more: The race to muscle Lululemon out of its turf)
Morgan Stanley predicts the weakest holiday season since 2008, however, estimating growth of just 1.6 percent for apparel retailers.
Third-quarter earnings and fourth-quarter forecasts have been mixed, with some retailers issuing optimistic commentary on the holiday period while others remain cautious.
Macy's reported a better-than-expected third quarter last week, and executives had encouraging holiday guidance.
In the department store's earnings release, CEO Terry Lundgren said "our business improved during the quarter, with particular strength in October, so we are entering the fourth quarter with confidence." On the earnings conference call, Macy's CFO Karen Hoguet said, "We are very excited about what we see for the holiday season."
(Read more: Forget Thanksgiving—let's shop!)
Wal-Mart is not inspiring confidence with its holiday season forecasts, though. The discount retailer lowered earnings expectations, saying that same-store sales will be flat for U.S. locations in the fourth quarter.
In the company's earnings release, CEO Mike Duke said, "The retail environment, both in stores and online, remains competitive," but "there is no doubt that [Wal-Mart] plans to win for our customers and shareholders throughout the holidays."
Midtier, off-mall department store Kohl's also lowered expectations for its holiday sales and profit. In its earnings release, CEO Kevin Mansell said, "As we enter the holiday season, we believe we are well-positioned from a merchandise content and inventory perspective to gain market share."
Turkey, football ... shopping
No matter how the holiday shapes up. Retailers have been looking for every opportunity to coax consumers to spend. Efforts to boost outlays, which started with Kmart's airing what many consider the earliest holiday ad ever, won't let up.
What began as an experiment several years ago to increase the Black Friday shopping period now appears to be a tradition. Retailers are opening their doors earlier every year, offering doorbuster deals to the millions of shoppers who show up on Thanksgiving. The National Retail Federation predicts 33 million people will hit the stores on that day.
Kmart (part of Sears Holdings) will be first out of the gate, opening its stores at 6 a.m. Toys R Us will open at 5 p.m., followed by Best Buy at 6 p.m. While many Walmart locations are open 24 hours, the world's largest retailer will begin offering special deals at 6 p.m. Target, J.C. Penney, Kohl's, Macy's and Sears will open at 8 p.m. Some Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic locations will be open at various times on Thanksgiving Day as well.
But not every retailer wants to join the turkey day shopping tradition. Dillard's, Costco, BJ's Wholesale Club, Saks, Lord & Taylor, Nordstrom and GameStop will be closed Thanksgiving. RadioShack also said most of its locations will remain closed.
—By CNBC's Courtney Reagan. Follow her on Twitter @CourtReagan.