Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Who Wants To Fight Crowds?...
...Alternatives To Black Friday Madness

Thanksgiving is almost upon us.  It is my favorite holiday.  It is about getting together with people you care about and being thankful for what you have and sharing a meal--what could be better! It is probably the most egalitarian of our holidays -- you don't have to belong to a particular religion, or for that matter believe in a higher power, to be grateful. Somewhere along the way we've lost sight of how important this is and after spending the day be grateful we rush out the next day -- and sometimes even on Thanksgiving day itself -- to acquire even more in a retail spending frenzy. Trust me, I like to save money, and as someone who owned a store, I get the need for customers, but almost everything about Black Friday and the weekend that follows seems to be contrary to the point of Thanksgiving.

I often say that we vote with our dollars and that those votes are some of the most powerful votes we cast. We can blame retailer's and mall owner's for the madness, but the fact of the matter is that our participation is why the madness continues.  Here are some ways to enjoy the holiday weekend without succumbing to the general craziness (there are even some suggestions for those who can't bear the thought of NOT shopping):

1. Have a movie or TV marathon day with your friends and family. Nothing fancy, kick back, enjoy some leftovers and watch the entire series of Harry Potter or the numerous football games or whatever strikes your fancy. You could also spend an afternoon or evening playing board games, cards, or for that matter some friendly competition on your favorite gaming system if you just can't let that technology go! Wouldn't you rather be hanging out with people you care about than fighting total strangers all clamoring to be the lucky few to get that doorbuster deal?

2. Have friends over for a potluck celebration.  A friend of mine is doing this the Saturday after Thanksgiving and I am absolutely looking forward to it. I am thankful for both my family and my friends and this year I get to celebrate with both. 

3. Take in a local museum, go see a local theatrical production, or attend a concert. While the superstores and malls may need your dollars, chances are your local cultural institutions need them more!  My hometown museum, Billings Farm & Museum, in Woodstock, Vermont, has a great Thanksgiving program. Here in Chicago, The Museum of Science and Industry has its annual Christmas Around the World exhibit of nearly 50 trees representing countries across the globe. There are plenty of free and low-cost programs, concerts, and performances all across the country, just check out the Internet or your local paper.

...still can't imagine NOT shopping on Black Friday or Thanksgiving Weekend?  Here are some alternatives to the crowds:

1. Support a local craft or art fair. This is a favorite tradition in my family. We would go to Weston, Vermont every year to their annual Christmas Bazaar held in the Weston Playhouse. Here in my Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park, there will be a Craft-Tacular Art Spectacle held at Rogers Park Social on Glenwood Avenue on Saturday, November 29th. Events like these offer unique and interesting items made by local artists and craftspeople, and you're shopping dollars stay in the community.

2. Check out the local stores and neighborhoods.  One of my favorite things to do here in Chicago (any time of year) is to explore one of our many neighborhoods.Each one has it's own flavor and culture and yet all of them are Chicago.  Exploration, however, is not limited to urban areas. When I lived in Vermont, after going to the Christmas Bazaar, we would swing over to the nearby town of Chester, Vermont, to explore some of the local shops and antique stores.  Don't forget to check out local grocers and bakers when you're out and about -- they are great sources for hard to find food items and gourmet treats. My Polish grandmother was tickled when I brought her a butter lamb from Hapanowicz Brothers in New York Mills for Easter one year, and at Christmas the local Polish grocers here in Chicago allow me to continue the Polish traditions of breaking opÅ‚atki at Christmas and making homemade horseradish (chrzan) at Easter. No crowds and plenty of parking, it is a great alternative to the craziness of the malls and plazas, and again, you're helping small, local businesses make a go of it and keeping money in your community, plus you're much more likely to find something unique or unusual.  

Remember, we have many blessings for which we are thankful. Time spent with family and friends is one of the most precious and fleeting, so make the most of it this holiday!

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