Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, millions of North Americans descend en masse on the chain stores and malls of this great land, often waiting for hours outside in the cold and dark of night to be the first to swarm the opening doors of Discount Electronix R Us and experience the holiday joy of getting into a hair-pulling fist fight over who’s gonna get that last marked down 50” big screen HDTV.
Well, that’s one way to get into the holiday spirit, I suppose. But have you ever considered celebrating the spirit of the season by experiencing something completely different?
Buy Nothing Day was created in 1992 by the publishers of Adbusters Magazine as a clarion call for citizens to reject rampant consumerism by pledging to buy nothing on the busiest shopping day of the year. Each year, awareness of Buy Nothing Day grows, and more people elect to spend time, not money: time with family and friends, time with community, time doing other things besides buying stuff.
When I was growing up, the day after Thanksgiving was a day for being lazy and just generally hanging out. Watching movies, running around with the neighbor kids, eating leftover turkey and pie. The adults would do their thing and we kids would do ours. Major home appliance purchases and fistfights weren’t part of the occasion.
It seems it’s become harder for adults to fill our free time in the 21st century. “Free time” is a concept we’ve frankly become rather uncomfortable with; free time must be filled. Black Friday does a terrific job of giving us all something to do on that long Day After; without it, we’d have to stay home and talk to each other.
Hey, I understand. It’s a daunting prospect.
So how can you participate in Buy Nothing Day without just spending the day in front of the boob tube, zoning out and waiting for tomorrow to come? In November of 2001 my siblings and I decided we would commemorate our first family Buy Nothing Day by making placards and joining other Buy Nothingers outside a mall. We started talking about what we’d put on our signs and how fun it would be to sing the slogans at people instead of yelling them. Then one of us started singing, another joined in, and we started belting out a bunch of be-bop-be-do nonsense. And voila – the Nonsense Enchanters were born!
But not everyone wants to start a family do-wop group and make fools of themselves in public. So, what else can you do to make the day into a real holiday? Here are some ideas:
Family Game Day
Charades, Settlers of Cataan, Rummy, Pictionary, these are all great group games. Or – really get creative – invent your own game.
Popcorn and Movie Marathon
The Day After is often a slothful day. Continue that by being couch potatoes together, as a family. Have each family member pick a favorite movie and indulge yourselves. You’ve got nothing better to do.
Take a break from lounging, bundle up and head outside. See who’s putting up their Christmas lights already; go to the park and play frisbee in the freezing cold; splash in puddles; play hide and seek; just get some air and be silly together.
Lend a Hand (Or an Ear)
Spending the day alone? Hands On Portland provides an amazing clearinghouse of one-day (and longer) volunteer opportunities. Or call up someone else you know is alone and offer to spend some time with them. So many people are incredibly lonely during the holidays. They don’t have to be. You can help.
Have an Adventure
Pick a random place on the map, not too far away, where you or the family has never been before and go there. It will be tempting to spend money there. Don’t do it! Pack some turkey sandwiches. Instead of buying souvenirs or snacks, take photos. Make a memory of your family adventure.
Be Artistic Together
Spend the day writing a play or a sketch together. Put it on at night, with costumes made from whatever you find around the house. Make it ridiculous. Film it. Instant classic for holidays down the road.
Sit in Silence
Here’s a radical idea – spend the day in silence. See what it feels like, what it brings up, both positive and negative, to spend an entire day not speaking. Journal your thoughts about both the experience of silence and Buy Nothing Day. Perhaps you’ve started a new tradition for yourself.
Host A Leftovers Potluck
Single or familied-up, anyone can throw a potluck. Everyone will bring some leftovers and you can listen to music and laugh at the hodge-podge of mismatched food.
I know you can think of your own, because I just thought of all these ideas in 10 minutes. The idea is to be part of a movement that places experience over stuff, gratitude over greed, connection over consumption. Remember: Consumption used to be a disease. It was also called The Wasting Disease. Who needs that? Choose something different. Choose awareness of how you will spend your most precious commodity: your time.
PS: If your Thanksgiving weekend is not complete without purchases, consider the shopping alternative of Small Business Saturday (the day after Black Friday). Yes, you will still be a consumer but your dollars will go to locally-owned businesses – your neighbors, your community. Seems a lot more in keeping with the Thanksgiving theme, doesn’t it?