10 Alternatives to Shopping on Black Friday

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Ways to spend the day for those who'd like to skip the whole 'bloodsport of mass consumerism' thing.

Leave it to modern America to take the least commercial of holidays – one about family and gratitude and sharing a meal – and turn it into a national day of stampeding and brawling in the name of hoarding cheap stuff. It was bad enough when Black Friday started on Friday, but now people set up tents and camp for weeks in parking lots and more and more stores are opening on Thanksgiving Thursday. It’s not my place to judge, different things make different people happy ... but it just feels like a sad homage to gratitude when the holiday devoted to thanks turns into frenzied mobs fighting for flat-screen TVs.

The day after Thanksgiving does make for a logical day to kick off the holiday season, but there are so many lovely ways to do it that don’t involve mad grabs and fisticuffs. Here are a few ideas:

1. Go to a park, not a parking lot
Let’s see ... giant redwoods or reckless consumerism. For anyone struggling between the two, know that 116 state parks in California are being sponsored by the San Francisco nonprofit, Save the Redwoods League, for free admission on Black Friday. Likewise, Minnesota State Parks system will have free admission at all state park and recreation areas, as well as state parks in Colorado. Many other parks are in on the deal, check your local areas to see what they are offering.

2. Have a DIY gathering
The hardest part about making DIY things for gift-giving is often just making a game-plan and sticking with it. So commit by starting a DIY party tradition to take place on Black Friday. Pick a fun and realistic project (like any of these: 10 DIY gifts you make in less than an hour) and assign supplies as you would a potluck dinner. I know it sounds a bit “grown up Girl Scouts” ... but that’s not necessarily such a bad thing. Plus, wine (if you swing that way).

3. Take a walk
If you’re a walker or a hiker, you already know that you may use your free Friday – your free Friday where you may be feeling extra full – to take a walk or hike. But if you are someone who is not in the habit of going around on foot just for kicks, there’s no time like now. Walking is such a beautiful way to feel connected to where you’re at – whether city sidewalk or mountain trail, it’s like your own personal Sensurround film experience, in real life!

4. Go to a museum
Some of us live in cities (like New York) that have amazing museums (like the Met and American Museum of Natural History) and we (like me) don’t go nearly as often as we think we do. One of the great perqs of living in a city is the culture; why do so many people hole up and not take advantage of it? Granted the crowds at the Met may rival those at Walmart, but the rewards are much richer. Many museums offer free admission and activities on Black Friday, check around and see what your local institutions are offering.

5. Bake something
Few things make me feel “thank you world” like turning on the oven and getting my hands covered in flour. Baking is one of the most mindful, meditative and satisfying things I know of, and is equally lovely pursued alone or with a lover or with a gaggle of kids. It engages all of the senses, it’s creative, and you are magically able to transform a random assortment of components into something to eat. You may still be full from Thursday night's dinner, but you can get a hardcore head start on holiday cookies – make the dough and freeze; it will last up to six weeks.

6. Go to the movies
In this age of streaming movies and large home screens, actually going to the theater becomes less of a priority, but that’s kind of too bad. While giant blockbusters at a monster Cineplex and a barrage of product placement and junk food may not be all that attractive, an independent film at a smaller theater is truly a treat. There’s something about sharing a film with a group of strangers that is pretty profound. Laughter is heightened, surprise is multiplied and there’s a simple beauty in the community experience, even if it is just seeing a movie together.

7. See holiday windows or lights
You can have an induction into holiday spirit without risk of being killed in a stampede at a superstore. In cities with department stores one can go glitzy by visiting the generally elaborately decorated store windows. Meanwhile, many towns and cities have areas of exuberant lighting displays. While I know that these options involve A) retail and B) energy use, I'm trying not to be too much of a green Scrooge.

8. Make some make-ahead hostess gifts
It’s hard to show up at a party empty-handed, it’s even harder to do so during the season marked by giving things to people. There will be many bouquets of posies and bottles of wine presented to the host or hostess, but why not hand over something handmade instead? Like a pretty jar of preserved lemons or some pancakes in a jar, which are both included here: 5 Last-Minute Hostess Gifts from Your Pantry.

9. Write a letter
Still riding the gratitude wave of Thanksgiving? Pen a letter – like with a pen; a letter that goes in an envelope and requires a stamp. Write to someone you admire, write to someone who taught you something, write to a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Write a love note to your partner, a card to your kid, a missive to your favorite aunt. The practice of letter writing is so quickly going the way of the dodo, even just a few handwritten sentences received in the mail is a treasure to both give and get. Also, this: 7 mighty benefits of writing by hand.

10. Turn thanks into a chain reaction
Imagine if the 226 million Americans who purchased $52 billion worth of stuff during Thanksgiving weekend in 2011 donated that money to charity instead. For that amount of money, 104 million families in need could have had their lives transformed by the gift of a dairy cow from Heifer International. We can’t expect everyone to forego a new PlayStation to make a donation to charity instead, but that doesn’t mean we can’t embark on our own acts of random kindness. Donate some time at a local shelter or charity, pack up leftovers and find someone who is hungry, buy a meal for a stranger, send a few dollars to a non-profit you like. If you have things to be grateful for, there's nothing better than to give someone else something to be grateful for as well. Thanks is most beautiful when shared.

Last updated November 28, 2019