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Take a hike

Sometimes, there is no better way to experience gratitude than to immerse oneself in nature. Autumn is a wonderful time to go hiking, since the foliage is still displaying a rainbow of hues in many areas, and the trails will be less crowded than they were in the peak of summer. If you tend to overdo it on the stuffing on Thursday’s holiday, you might be in need of a little extra exercise as well. After all, the fall and winter holiday period is when a lot of people tend to gain weight and you want to start the season with a clear conscience, right?

If you’re not one for wandering in the woods, try geocaching – a game that uses GPS navigation to direct participants to a hidden treasure (placed there by other gamers). If you don’t have a handheld GPS device, you can download a geocaching app for your smartphone and head on out.

RELATED: REI to shut all 143 stores and pay employees to #OptOutside on Black Friday

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Donate winter coats to families in need

Most shelters for the homeless and for victims of domestic violence are in great need of warm clothes and winter coats this time of the year. Call around to your local friends and family ahead of time, and ask for their donations. You can also do some shopping, hitting up local thrift stores for inexpensive coats to donate. Remember that coats of all sizes are needed, from the very small to the biggest of the big. You can even go door-to-door in your neighborhood to ask people to donate their old coats. You may want to bring along a little red wagon to collect them in. I suggest printing out some information on the shelter you intended to donate the clothing to (with tips on other items that might be needed) so your neighbors know where their goods are going and can take action to help further if they feel compelled.

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Host a Thanksgiving leftover potluck

If you have a big feast on Thanksgiving, chances are you’ll be drowning in leftovers come Friday, and so will all your friends. Invite people over to share in a post-Thanksgiving leftover smorgasbord. Although you may not feel like stuffing your face as much on Friday, this potluck like most others is about much more than the food. It’s a chance to get together with people you appreciate. A casual post-holiday potluck is also a great opportunity to bring together friends from different parts of your life and introduce them to one another, tightening the ties of your community. If you like the idea of hosting a Black Friday potluck, consider taking a good idea and making it even better. Ask people to bring one or two empty leftover containers, so they can take home portions of other people’s goodies. That is, if there is anything left after your leftover party!

RELATED: Six delicious recipes for your Thanksgiving leftovers

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Visit an animal sanctuary

In nearly every part of the country, there are a few hard-working organizations toiling tirelessly, some almost around the clock, to provide a better life for innocent animals. Some of their wards are neglected or unwanted pets, and others are rescues from farms and scientific research. Planning a visit to an animal rescue is a much more rewarding option than fighting crowds at the mall. Find an organization in your area on a site like Petfinder and call ahead. Some allow visitors, for a small fee or a donation, for educational purposes, while others require visitors to volunteer. If that’s the case, don’t let it dissuade you. Working with animals can be incredibly satisfying. Either way, visiting an animal sanctuary is a great opportunity to spend some time outdoors and appreciate the beauty of animals at peace.

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Volunteer your time

Homeless shelters and food banks need volunteers year-round, but some actually begin ramping up their activities in the fall as cold winter approaches. Use a website like Volunteer Match to find a place to donate your time, or call around to a few different places in advance and ask to speak to the volunteer coordinator to see when they need the most help. Don’t forget animal shelters as well, which are almost always in need of volunteers to scrub kennels, bathe kittens, and even transport cats and dogs between different locations.

Lastly, instead of or perhaps in addition to volunteering your time and labor, consider giving blood.

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Support local small businesses

The day after Black Friday has been known as Small Business Saturday for the past five years, thanks to a marketing campaign by American Express. In fact, the credit card company has even trademarked the phrase. Despite the questionable origins, the concept is sound. Consumers are encouraged to spend their money at brick-and-mortar shops that are small and locally owned. After all, once Thanksgiving is over, many people turn their thoughts to winter holiday gift-giving. So, if you must shop on Black Friday, there’s no reason you can’t spend those hard-earned dollars at local stores- that is, if they are open.

If you’d still prefer not to shop on Black Friday – and trust me, I’m with you on that – consider taking part in a public effort to combat the injustice of big box stores. Walmart is an easy target, as the nation’s largest employer and the one best known for paying low wages and using part-time schedules to avoid providing benefits. Chances are, there are activists in your area with plans to protest the purveyor of cheap products from China, in concert with worker strikes. There is perhaps no better opportunity than a highly commercialized marketing ‘holiday’ like Black Friday to illustrate the injustice of a big company getting rich while keeping its employees in poverty.

Lead image via Shutterstock (modified), additional images via Cat DiStasio