Beyond Black Friday: five alternative ways to spend Thanksgiving weekend

Shopping on Black Friday isn't the only way to spend Thanksgiving weekend. Whether you're looking to do something outdoors, to take in a little culture, or to find a way to give back, here are five alternative ways to kick off the holiday season.

Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium/AP
Volunteers Sally Kauffman (l.), her husband, Chris Kauffman (c.), both from Sawyer, Mich., and Roger Thompson (r.), from New Buffalo, Mich., serve up Thanksgiving Day meals at the Soup Kitchen in Benton Harbor, Mich., Thursday.

If the idea of prowling the mall for Black Friday deals amid a horde of fellow shoppers makes you shudder, you’re not alone. Despite the full-on drive from the retail industry, only about 28 percent of Americans actually hit the stores for Black Friday sales, according to a Bankrate.com survey.

Black Friday has popularly been known as the day that herds of shoppers lured to the mall by dramatic discounts help push retailers’ balance sheets out of the red and into the black. But that narrative could prove to be an urban legend.

While competitive and social shoppers may enjoy the sport of the day, in many instances, neither the consumer nor the seller really gets what it bargained for. Turns out, the best deals for shoppers may be in the days after Black Friday, according to The New York Times's retail strategy blog. At the same time, the insatiable consumer demand for deep discounts has rendered the holiday season something of a sinkhole for retailers, as Thomas Lee details for SFGate.com.

Whether you object to Black Friday in principle or simply wish to forgo the massive crowds, here are five alternative ways to spend the days after Thanksgiving.

Hit the movies: While many Americans increasingly turn to HBO and streaming services like Netflix for their movies, a trip to the theater could be a welcome break from the mad dash of the holiday season. So far, “Mockingjay – Part 1,” the latest installment of “The Hunger Games” series, tops the Thanksgiving charts after raking in $11.1 million Thursday. Trailing far behind were DreamWorks Studios' latest animated film, “Penguins of Madagascar” ($3.9 million), and the raunchy comedy “Horrible Bosses 2” ($3.1 million). If art-house theaters are more your scene, Monitor film critic Peter Rainer recommends a “near masterpiece” from Japan, “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” or Frederick Wiseman’s ode to the art world, “National Gallery.”

Deck the halls: Shopping isn’t the only way to get in the Christmas spirit. This weekend can be a good time to deck the halls and trim the tree. The Obamas' Christmas tree arrived at the White House Friday morning. The 20-foot white fir will be on display in the Blue Room for the family, guests, and White House tourgoers to enjoy. (No word on whether the first family will decorate the tree or leave it to helpful elves.)

Alternatively, you could share the holiday spirit with neighbors at a local tree-lighting ceremony. From Anchorage, Alaska, to Kalamazoo, Mich., communities around the country will kick off the holiday season with some collective oohs and aahs. The famed Rockefeller Center tree-lighting ceremony in New York will be broadcast nationally on Wednesday, Dec. 3, on NBC. 

Enjoy the winter wonderland: If you live in New England or the mid-Atlantic, you may have a fresh blanket of snow either waiting for you to play in or demanding to be shoveled, depending on your age bracket and perspective. A pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm dumped up to a foot of snow on Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and much of New England. Additional snow Thursday night left hundreds of thousands in the region without power Friday morning. In upstate New York, many residents were still digging out from record snowfall last week, which buried Buffalo in as much as eight feet of snow.

If the shoveling is done – or someone else’s responsibility – this weekend might be the perfect time to get a jump on the ski season. Many New England area ski resorts opened last weekend with man-made snow. Colorado slopes have been open for more than a month.

Check out a museum: When the weather outside is frightful, museums can be a great refuge from the precipitation and the chill – not to mention a grand place to walk off some of that Thanksgiving turkey. Many museums offer special family-oriented activities this weekend. Others host holiday concerts. Some even offer discounted admission or free open houses. This year, the Phoenix Art Museum gave away free memberships to 55 museumgoers. Check your area museums for local deals and offerings.

Volunteer or donate: If you’re looking for a more altruistic way to spend your Thanksgiving holiday, you could look into local volunteer opportunities or sort through old clothes to donate to organizations that serve the poor. Soup kitchens and food pantries are typically inundated with volunteers on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, but tend to be short-handed the remaining 363 days a year. Reach out to national and local charity organizations to find out what needs you might be able to fill. Or check out the Monitor's guide to family volunteering opportunities.

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