A Minimalist Black Friday

Happy first anniversary!

Yes, it was exactly one year ago today that I published my first post... and today I'll share a revision of that post.

"Are you ready for Black Friday?"

It was just friendly chitchat from a store clerk, but it caught me by surprise.  The aisles were packed with people shopping for Thanksgiving dinner ingredients, just as I was.  But in our consumerist culture, Thanksgiving Day has become Black Friday Eve.  The real event is a long weekend of shopping.

I'm not the first to notice the irony.  Thanksgiving, which is supposed to be a day about being grateful for all you have, has become a time to make a shopping list and plan your retail strategy, because everyone you know (yourself included) wants even more.

Apparently, the true meaning of the holidays in America isn't family, or peace on earth, or the light of goodness and joy shining in spite of the darkness of human woes.

It's about a bunch of new stuff.  Even children are encouraged to expect that Santa will bring them all the stuff they want.

I'm not immune to this.  It's not just "those people" who commercialize Christmas, it's me too.  When I start thinking about the holidays, I definitely consider gifts, food, décor, clothes, parties, holiday performances, and – oh yeah – Jesus, that guy whose birth we're supposedly celebrating.

I do love spending time with my family, so I also think about special activities and outings we can share together, such as movie nights with favorite holiday films, holiday stories to read aloud, an evening of board games, driving or walking around looking at light displays, and the carol service at church on Christmas Eve.

Here's something surprising.

More than almost any physical gift, it's these shared activities that my now-grown kids remember most through the years.

They still like to do those things with us.  It's those fun times together, along with a few other non-material things, that create holiday joy for all of us.

  • It's Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas," and Handel's Messiah, and sets of keys shaken while caroling "Jingle Bells" that sound like Christmas.
  • It's the scents of fir and pine, wood smoke and rain-fresh air, and cinnamon, cloves, and pumpkin pie that smell like Christmas.
  • It's the twinkling lights on houses and trees, glowing candles, and the pair of choirboy angels my mom bought the year I was born that look like Christmas to us.

My kids fondly remember the year we didn't spend money on gifts but took a trip to Mendocino, on California's northern coast, instead.  They never forget the ice cream shop on Main Street that opened on Christmas morning and gave free scoops to all who passed by.

They remember aunts and uncles and cousins we may not often see but with whom we've had happy times.  They remember (with laughter) the extremely bad jokes my father always told, and we all miss him now that he has passed away.  We remember Christmas Eves when we slept amid blankets on the living room floor with the tree lights on all night.  We look at photo albums, those relics of the 20th century, and remember the way we were.

Gifts?  Do we remember any gifts?  Very few.  I remember a doll I got one year when I was about nine.  Another time I got my very own sewing basket, just like Mama's.  My kids remember getting their bikes and their own CD players.  Otherwise, we remember nothing specific, even though much time, money, and energy was expended in choosing them.

Take the challenge.

What would happen if we focused less on what comes from a store and more on all of the sights, sounds, scents, and shared activities that we actually remember so happily and in such detail?

There are so many enjoyable things that can be part of the holiday season even without presents, new décor, fancy clothes, or tons of special foods.

So here's my challenge:

Stay out of stores (including virtual ones) this weekend, Black Friday through Cyber Monday.

Ignore the crowds, the traffic, the rudeness and violence, and the pressure to shop because of the sales.  You're not interested in buying something simply because the price is low, anyway.  That's how you wind up with junk and clutter.  There are better things to do with your time.

25 non-consumer Black Friday activities

1.  Rest and relax.

2.  If you didn't have time to do it on Thanksgiving Day, write a list of things for which you're grateful.  Try to get to at least 100.

3.  Play your favorite Christmas music, or other music you haven't listened to for a while.

4.  Call a friend or family member you didn't see on Thanksgiving and take time for a visit.

5.  Make creative sandwiches with your leftover turkey.

6.  Pick up neighborhood trash (some of your neighbors might be interested in helping too).

7.  Bundle up and take a walk in the park, along the beach, or on a hiking trail.

8.  Clean up, organize, and back up computer files.

9.  If you have any evergreens in your yard (including juniper, rosemary, and ivy), use cuttings to craft a wreath for your front door.

10.  Rake leaves into a huge pile and jump in it.

11.  Curl up with that new book you haven't started yet, or with an old favorite.

12.  Volunteer at the soup kitchen, the senior center, an animal shelter, or somewhere else you care about.

13.  Declutter the junk drawer, the front closet, the guest room, the kids' toys, or somewhere else.

14.  Write a thank you letter to a friend, relative, teacher, pastor, or neighbor.

15.  Watch your favorite holiday movie.

16.  Give yourself a facial or a manicure.

17.  Play board games.

18.  Clean up or delete social media profiles.

19.  Put up storm windows, clean roof gutters, or otherwise winterize your home.

20.  Go to a local museum (it will be uncrowded).

21.  Go to the gym.

22.  Make something.  Take out your neglected knitting, beading, embroidery, sketchbook, or whatever it is you enjoy.

23.  Gather a group for touch football, soccer, or even croquet.

24.  Go through the year's photos, choose the best, and prepare a digital photo book or calendar.

25.  Hang outdoor Christmas lights.

Sounds like a better Black Friday!

Updated September 2022


  1. When family wants me to go shopping with them I have learned to treat the stores like museums--it's OK to go enjoy the exhibits but don't touch.

    1. That's a great idea, Linda! And you still get time with your family.


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