Sierra’s Thanksgiving and Black Friday 2020 Survival Guide

It’s almost ironic: Thanksgiving’s roots lie in togetherness and bountiful harvests. But for any CDC-respecting environmentalist, the alarming surge of COVID-19 and the social distancing directives that come with it will likely mean staying put this year. As fabulous as candied yams and cornucopias are, they’re just not the same over Zoom. 

Why not make the best of it and spend your Thanksgiving and subsequent Black Friday REI-style: by opting outside. In 2015, executives at the outdoor retail monolith began to question their corporate involvement in Black Friday given that Americans generate a cool million tons of extra waste between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So, REI shuttered its doors, suspended online sales, provided all 12,000-some employees with a paid day off, arranged for upwards of a thousand state and local parks to waive entrance fees on Black Friday, and partnered with 170 organizations to take to the internet and encourage would-be shoppers to get outside instead with their loved ones. Thus was born the hashtag #OptOutside.

That first year, more than 1.4 million people posted the tag to social media, showcasing all manner of outdoor adventure, prompting Ad Age to praise #OptOutside as the “future of marketing.” Ever since, the campaign has continued to blow up, mainstreaming the shunning of consumerism. Considering the fact that online shopping tends to be even more wasteful than hitting up the mall, you might consider making a full departure from the discount dystopia and instead finding meaningful ways to safely get outside, whether solo or with your lockdown pod. Starting on Thanksgiving. 

Here are 12 suggestions to get you started:

  1. Expand your knowledge of local Indigenous history—and then explore it. Sadly, federal holidays like Columbus Day and Thanksgiving downplay white American settlers’ racism toward Native Americans and the mass genocide of Indigenous tribes after those settlers arrived here from Europe. Plug your address into the Native Land website to learn about the Indigenous history of the land you inhabit. You’ll find territory boundaries, languages spoken in said territories, and information about treaties that likely shaped your area. If you’re inspired to set out to solo-explore such areas this weekend, bring along your headphones and check out the podcast Toasted Sister, a Native American food show that’s especially relevant during the Thanksgiving season. (You might even be inspired to create your own Indigenous feast.)

  1. Take a “gratitude amble.” The goal of a meditative gratitude walk is to go slowly and observe all that you see around you as you move. Take it all in—be aware of plants, weather patterns, the colors of the foliage, the sounds the birds make, and the scents of the plants. Notice how your feet feel when you step onto the ground. You might want to bring along a journal, in case you’re inspired to document your gratitude. 

  1. Route a totally new hike or walking adventure in your city. As one Sierra contributor reports, “I love a long urban hike. I’ll pick a place I’ve never been (maybe a bakery that’s doing holiday takeout across town) and spend a day weaving through neighborhoods. I’ll give myself the added challenge of sticking to quieter streets too.” I love that idea. So much so that here in San Francisco, a city known for its network of storied—and sometimes hidden and/or mosaic-tiled—staircases, I’ll be using this handy map, created by explorer extraordinaire @UrbanHikerSF, to plan a Thanksgiving trek that’ll include as many ascents of new (to me, anyway) stairs as possible. To find new trails and adventures to pursue in your neck of the woods, check out local writers’ and influencers’ social media feeds as well as nearby state and national park sites.

  1. Take part in a playful outdoor challenge—and compete for national park passes and outdoor gear! Outdoor gear companies are innovating crafty new ways to engage consumers during the pandemic. Swedish outfitter Fjallraven, for instance, just launched a nifty Get Into Nature giveaway that harnesses augmented reality technology to challenge participants to go exploring outside (whether by venturing deep into a forest or visiting a local park) to collect virtual “Fox Coins,” Pokemon Go–style, which can then be exchanged for a national park pass or a shopping spree. In a similar vein, the Hawaiian shoemakers behind Hoka One One devised the Conscious Hiker Challenge to reward outdoorsfolk who voluntarily pick up trash and restore trails—as well as those who work to boost diversity in the outdoors and bring newbies out onto the trails—with new kicks.

  1. Clean up a local beach, trail, or park. Put your undying gratitude for Mother Nature in action by signing up for a local cleanup (if you live near a coast, we’re partial to the Ocean Conservancy’s organized events). Mask up and respect social distancing guidelines, and you’ve got yourself a safe way to interact with friends and family too!

  1. Run a virtual or DIY Turkey Trot. In the Before Times, the fourth Thursday of November was the most popular day of the year for road racing. As a longtime runner, I can attest to the unique satisfaction found in strapping on a turkey hat and kicking off the holiday season with a good sweat alongside friends and family members. For painfully obvious reasons, this year will be different. However, runners can now choose from among a true smorgasbord of local and far-flung virtual races—most of which offer up timed and untimed options, allow you to interact with fellow runners and walkers and which donate a portion of their proceeds to charities like food banks and youth running programs. Check out America’s Turkey Trot, which sends registrants pumpkin-pie-inspired medals and related swag. Or what the heck, why not travel vicariously to the stomping grounds of the first Thanksgiving and compete in the Manchester Road Race, New England’s most esteemed Turkey Day race, now in its 84th year?

  1. Volunteer to deliver Thanksgiving meals via bike. Research shows that home-delivered meal programs significantly improve recipients’ diet quality, increase nutrient intakes, reduce food insecurity, and improve quality of life. Meals on Wheels serves people who are unable to prepare or procure their own meals and operates in virtually every community in America through its network of 5,000+ independently run programs. Bike delivery offers a great way to get outside and breathing in fresh air while delivering meals to the seniors (among many others) who are homebound due to COVID-19.

  1. Walk a senior’s dog. While many volunteer programs have had to pause during the pandemic, most municipal shelters can connect you with active opportunities. In California’s Bay Area, for instance, the organization Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS) helps care for the pets of seniors and people living with disability or illness by offering dog walking, transportation to the vet, monthly dog washes, and more. And petting an appreciative creature, science says, will only boost your brain’s manufacture of gratitude-inducing endorphins.

  1. Plant a winter herb garden. Subvert the Thanksgiving narrative by seeding a future bountiful harvest. Parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, chives, lavender, cilantro, and mint all love a late fall/mild winter growing season. Head to your garden, balcony, or windowsill, check out this advice from Sierra’s gardening correspondent, and get ready to be rewarded in a few weeks’ time with the freshest flavors for comforting wintry stews and bakes.

  1. Plan some outdoor arts and crafts. Those with kids, as well as the craft-inclined, might enjoy getting creative in the great outdoors. Try sending kids off on a mission to find some pretty pinecones, setting up a backyard or park table with some craft glue, glitter, and ribbon, and spending Thanksgiving creating some nature-inspired holiday decor. 

  1. Host a great gourd hunt. Treasure hunts are a blast for both kids and grown-ups. So why not stash a few mini-pumpkins and gourds around your property, neighborhood, or a local patch of woods, and send your pod members off on a great autumnal quest? (Don’t forget prizes!)

  1.  Look up at the stars. One of my favorite reasons to bundle up and head outside after dark is to gaze upward. The night sky rarely fails to leave me speechless and more cognizant than usual of the gazillion little reasons I have to be thankful. If you’ve got a good pair of binoculars, you might seize the once-in-2000-years chance to spot the visible Comet Erasmus, which is rapidly brightening in the southeastern sky and should be visible this weekend just above treeline, shortly before dawn. Just you and your naked eye? No problem. Look to the southeastern skies right after sunset for a glimpse of the great Orion Nebula (pictured below), which is most visible during the fall and winter months. This is an area of active star formation—a violent place where stars are constantly being born out of collapsing hydrogen. Orion always reminds me that despite all that destruction, hope for a new (and very literally bright) future is in fact eminently realistic—even if it feels quite distant this year.

Photo by Kevin McMullen

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