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Skip the shopping frenzy with these 4 Black Friday alternatives

People shop ahead of Black Friday at a Walmart Supercenter on Tuesday in Burbank, Calif.
Mario Tama
Getty Images
People shop ahead of Black Friday at a Walmart Supercenter on Tuesday in Burbank, Calif.

The Super Bowl of shopping. The all-American consumption blitz. The best of capitalism — or the absolute worst.

Whether you love it or hate it, Black Friday is here again, taking over our ads and inboxes with loud proclamations of deals and discounts.

And sure, you could argue that this old shopping standby is changing shape — no longer just a day but a whole long weekend with Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday. You could even call it Black November, with some seasonal sales having started days ago.

But if you're looking to put away your pocketbook entirely? Organized alternatives for the day of can feel scarce.

Thankfully, you've come to the right place.

Below are four trends when it comes to ditching the cart creatively, plus tips for joining in, if that's your jam.

1. Go for a hike

If you're on Instagram, there's a good chance you've already heard of the #OptOutside movement.

The trend started in 2015, when REI, the outdoor outfitting behemoth, announced it was shutting its doors for Black Friday and paying its workers to go play in nature.

The bold move proved so good for PR that the company has committed to making it an annual tradition. REI says that some 700 organizations and 7 million people have followed suit.

If you, too, want to choose trails over aisles, start by checking out the websites of your local state and national parks. Some have started waiving fees or offering special events for the holiday.

And if you're heading out where the weather is cold, NPR's Brian Mann offers these safety tips.

2. Try "buy nothing" groups

You might remember "Buy Nothing Day" as an early aughts anti-consumerist stunt involving zombie costumes and conga lines of empty shopping carts.

But at its heart, the concept is just a boycott of Black Friday. Started by the group Adbusters, Buy Nothing Day was intended to be a 24-hour moratorium on making purchases as a personal counter to unsustainable consumption.

Part of why Buy Nothing Day failed to catch on was that it received a big backlash in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. National sentiment suggested that shopping could be an act of patriotism — a way to boost the economy and therefore beef up America's stature in a burgeoning war against terrorism.

These days, Buy Nothing Day still exists, but the more mainstream distillation of the idea endures in the Buy Nothing Project. Millions participate in the series of community-centered giveaway groups powered by Facebook and, more recently, an app.

If you want to break the buying trend, check out some options for meaningful gift-giving from NPR's Life Kit.

3. Celebrate Native American Heritage Month

On some calendars, you may see Native American Heritage Day listed for the Friday after Thanksgiving.

The day was formally made into a U.S. civil holiday in 2008, conceived as a way to pay tribute to tribes and their contributions to the country.

But some Native Americans have criticized the holiday's timing, saying it was picked in poor taste.

For one, the holiday comes straight after Thanksgiving, which some Native Americans call the National Day of Mourning for its longstanding connection to colonialism. European settlers killed 56 million indigenous people across South, Central and North America in about 100 years, researchers at the University College London estimate.

And second, the holiday is shared with Black Friday, a celebration of capitalistic greed and gluttony in some eyes.

In recent years, U.S. presidents have issued proclamations to observe Indigenous Peoples' Dayon Columbus Day, the federal holiday that falls in October and celebrates the voyage of Christopher Columbus.

But the month of November is still set aside as Native American Heritage Month.

There are no set rules for observing the time, but some Native American groups suggest making space for reflection, recognition and education.

You might start by looking up and formally acknowledging which Indigenous lands you're living on or visiting, then checking for local events or digging into books and podcasts. Check out this edition of NPR's Up First newsletter for a handy list of ideas.

4. Learn something new

If the lure of a good deal is too much to give up, consider checking out your public library. As the New York Public Library likes to point out in an annual ad campaign, the inventory is literally free.

And they're not the only public institution that says brainy is the new black.

NASA uses the day to share fun facts about black holes. Museums across the country offer special events and discounted admission. And, of course, NPR will still be broadcasting.

Find your local radio station or tune into the NPR app to access the latest news and compelling stories — free on Friday, Saturday, Sunday ... and every single day of the year.

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Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.