The unofficial kick-off to the holiday season is virtually stamped on the calendar the day after Thanksgiving. Titled Black Friday — from the idea that it is the time of year retailers leave the red column and enter the profit, or black, column — the commercialization of the third Friday in November is somewhat of a pop phenomenon with a cult-like following. Merchants hype up and advertise specials, deals and savings weeks in advance while people prepare to rise at 4 a.m. just hours after completing their holiday feasts. If you prefer to avoid the madness, here are some alternatives.

It’s not surprising that so many people participate in Black Friday. After all, it is the season of giving. Many look forward to spending the day with spouses, siblings or parents. Others like to complete their holiday shopping early so they can enjoy the upcoming weeks in other ways. But from a different perspective, Thanksgiving offers a rare 4-day weekend, leaving many unencumbered by school and work obligations. This is an opportunity to enjoy the last bits of decent fall weather, spend time with family or try something new. So while everyone else is out battling for the newest electronics, fill your Black Friday with some of these shopping alternatives, many of which are good for your health, the environment and your wallet.

four people wearing blue shirts that read, "Volunteer"


Nothing feeds the soul like helping others. Volunteer to serve a meal at a local homeless shelter; these shelters often seek volunteers for special meals served during the holidays. Also, track down your local food bank. Food banks are always looking for extra hands during the busy season. Volunteer options abound, so choose to participate in something that you’re passionate about such as a church bazaar, a beach clean-up or a gift wrap event to support foster children or servicepeople. If you’d rather spend the day alone, make crafts to donate to a worthy cause, scoop leaves out of drains on your street or make repairs at an elderly neighbor’s home.

Person wearing hiking boots on leaf-covered ground

Get into nature

Fall is that forgiving season where you might need an extra layer, but the harsh winter days have not yet arrived. Take advantage of the weather and enjoy some time in nature. Invite a friend for a walk or take the dogs for a long hike. Pedal the miles on your street bike or hit the hills with your mountain bike. Go bird watching, camping or kayaking. If the snow has arrived, hit the slopes for skiing or snowboarding.

Related: Get ready for an adventure with this ultimate checklist of backpacking essentials

train winding through trees

Take a trip

The long holiday weekend is the perfect time to take a mini vacation. Hit the beach, visit family or explore someplace you’ve never been. Locally, you can set a goal of visiting all the parks in your area.

hammer and nails on gray background

Do home improvements

Life gets busy with the daily 9-5, so when you have a couple of days off work, it’s nice to tackle home improvement. Clean out the garage, donate cans and bottles to a local fundraiser, make trips to donation centers and get the recycling out of the house. Perhaps paint a room or install new flooring. You could also complete those outdoor tasks of cleaning up the garden, building new beds and repairing gates.

people toasting wine glasses

Attend a local event

Merchants and vendors know that you’re spending the day with family, so there are ample opportunities to find an event that suits your interests. Look on community boards for information about craft fairs, wine tastings and musical events. With part of your thoughts wrapped up in holiday gift giving, pick up gift certificates for lunch while you’re at the winery, buy concert tickets for a friend or purchase small local goods such as honey and tea and then put together gift baskets as the holidays get closer.

aerial view of several people having dinner

Host a friendsgiving

Friendsgiving is a growing tradition where people assemble for a casual pre- or post-Thanksgiving gathering. Commonly, people bring leftovers or a favorite recipe, so everyone contributes to a potluck-style dinner. You could make it a family event, invite couples or just have friends over. Structure the day the way you want with an emphasis on quality time together and no stress. Make it a pajama party. Write thank you cards to each other or others. Have a movie marathon or cue up a sporting event on TV.

person cutting string for snowflake ornaments

Make gifts

Instead of marching in to the nearest mall, spend the day making your own gifts. Have a wreath-making party, whip up a batch of Kahlua drinks and place in cute bottles, prepare gifts in a jar such as cookie or soup ingredients, make salt dough ornaments or get out the sewing machine to create heat packs or door draft blockers.

Related: Inexpensive DIY holiday centerpieces and decorations

exterior of movie theater lit up at night

Schedule a date

Get out with others and attend a movie, go bowling, visit the zoo, head to the theater, check out an art exhibit or museum, get a pedicure or massage or check out a local escape room.

man reading to a baby

Create memories at home

In today’s busy world, it’s rare to truly unplug and revel in moments at home. Plan a craft with the kids, make snowflakes for decorations, work a puzzle, make homemade popcorn and gather the family for a movie or dig out the board games. These are the things your family will remember long after the store-bought items are unwrapped and eventually discarded.

ornate shopping center with tall ceilings and a Christmas tree

Support alternatives to big box stores

Hit up the secondhand market through thrift stores and estate sales, shop locally and support small businesses and scour Etsy and other online merchants for crafters who make creative, one-of-a-kind items. When you do make purchases from retailers, support those in alignment with your eco-friendly beliefs. Also check out Shop for Good Sunday, a community of companies that aim to be responsible stewards in business.

If you decide to go shopping, remember to carry the spirit of the season with you. Allow someone to park in a space when you arrive simultaneously, offer to return a shopping cart for a mother with small children, help the elderly across the road and let someone with only a few items check out before you. Also think about ways you can minimize waste by purchasing items with responsible packaging, bring your own bags to the store and refuse bags or boxes that you do not need.

Images via Rawpixel (1, 2), Fidel Fernando, Kane Reinholdtsen, Traveler, Kelsey Chance, Michael Mroczek, Myke Simon, PicseaHeidi Sandstrom and Shutterstock