Five Ways to Replace “Black Friday” With “Friday Fun Day”

Whether you stay put for Thanksgiving weekend or are in another city visiting family, there’s nothing that chills the warmth of the previous day’s festivities faster than the crowds at malls, mega-stores and movie theaters. Instead, use the day to explore quieter places in your hometown or the city you are visiting. Learn a bit about hidden gems of local history, work off some calories from last night’s meals, enjoy a bit of fresh air and, perhaps, make a less fortunate family’s holiday a little brighter.

Take a Culture Break

Museums around the United States are providing visitors and locals extra reason to skip the malls in favor of absorbing local history and culture with special events and discounts on Black Friday. “Christmas Around the World” at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry does this in grand style. Started in 1942, the annual institution now features 50 trees decorated to represent holiday customs in different countries around the world.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, dedicates the day to face painting, balloon art and a hot cocoa bar. Miami’s Frost Museum of Science offers two-for-one admission, while the Oakland Museum of California waives admission for kids and has half-price admission for adults. Atlanta’s High Museum of Art hosts a “Day After Thanksgiving” event with arts and crafts, storytelling sessions and other festivities.

Spread Holiday Cheer…Where It Counts

While homeless shelters and food banks need volunteers year-round, many organizations ramp up their activities during late fall as cold winter approaches. Volunteer Match lists many places where you can put the Friday to good use and show the kids the true meaning of the season. You can also reach out via the internet or phone to volunteer coordinators at churches, synagogues and community centers in the area. Every town and city also has animal shelters, always in need of volunteers to scrub kennels, bathe kittens and even transport cats and dogs between different locations (including “forever” homes).

Take a Hike

National and state parks are encouraging the public, weather permitting, to “opt outside” by making hiking trails and other amenities open to the public. Gov. Andrew Cuomo took it a step further for New Yorkers, waving the cost of admission at New York State parks for the day after Thanksgiving. In New York City, non-shoppers can bypass the crowds entirely at Black Friday Meditation at Wave Hill Public Gardens in the northwest Bronx and instead stock up on mindfulness and stress relief.

Elsewhere in the United States, you can visit the National Parks website (nps.org) to find which parks will be open the Friday after Thanksgiving and, among those, will have holiday activities. Rangers and guides will lead hikes in parks such as Big Thicket National Park, northeast of Houston, and Paramount Ranch, in California’s Santa Monica Mountains. A post-Thanksgiving Field Day at Fort Pulaski outside of Savannah, Georgia, includes races and educational Civil War programming.

San Francisco City Hall Tree Lighting © Nickolay Stanev | Dreamstime.com

San Francisco City Hall Tree Lighting © Nickolay Stanev | Dreamstime.com

Light The Way

While the malls and shopping districts will be dressed in holiday style, there are other places to see winter wonderlands come alive without the distractions of shopping and spending. The L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks, for example, hosts the Winter Holiday Festival with tons of snow for sledding, a trackless train ride, entertainment, food vendors, craft booths and a free photo with Santa at Pershing Square.

In San Francisco, Union Square hosts an annual tree lighting and an ice rink is stationed nearby to drive the holiday spirit home. On the other coast, holiday enthusiasts can frolic at Christmas on the Potomac at the Marriott, including “ICE!” featuring A Charlie Brown Christmas, packed with larger-than-life ice sculptures and slides hand-carved from more than 2 million pounds of ice.

In Kansas City, the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at Crown Center officially kicks off the season of giving. Following a long journey from Oregon, the 100-foot tree will illuminate to act as a symbol for the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund, benefiting Kansas City’s less fortunate residents. After the holidays, the wood is repurposed to be commemorative ornaments, sold the following year to benefit the fund.

A Head Start on Giving

Those who feel the spirit of giving back (and want to de-clutter their closets) can celebrate Black Friday as “Buy Nothing Day.” The global anti-consumerism movement originating in Vancouver, Canada, spread to several states including Utah, Kentucky and Rhode Island, which set up coat exchanges and Facebook pages for more information on how to provide individuals and families in need of coats and winter clothing.