For most of my life, Thanksgiving was spared the overt commercialization of the other holidays. Christmas has the gifts, Halloween the candy and costumes, Valentine’s the chocolates, roses, jewelry, and guilt—perfect avenues for commercial interests. But Thanksgiving genuinely felt different, as if it was only about getting together with friends and relatives over a crispy-skinned bird and offering gratitude for what we had and who was still with us.
These days, commercialization has crashed the party. You’ve got Black Friday. Then Small Business Saturday. Then Cyber Monday. (Giving Tuesday I can get behind.) The “Black Friday” deals on Amazon started going last week and should continue well past the holiday.
I get it. That’s how the business world works. And people have the day off. They’re up early enough to start shopping right away, since tucking away 4000 calories in a single sitting the night before probably put them to bed by nine. Most importantly, people are jonesing for some ritual to commemorate the passing of another holiday. Sacrificing one’s sleep, free time, and money to the commerce god BOGO seemingly does the trick, especially if you get a killer deal and everyone else is doing it. You get swept up in the moment—the power of the crowd, the knowledge that in every town across this great big country of ours, millions of your fellow citizens are flooding the stores in search of a good bargain.
Yet, there are other ways to connect to that feeling of unification. There are other ways to celebrate. We can form new rituals that don’t revolve around the acquisition of material goods.
Like what? What could a “Primal Friday” look like?
1. Take In a Cultural Event
Skip the throngs at the mall and head for the concert hall, local theater, or community center. Expand your horizons, and enjoy a communal atmosphere without the stampede.
2. Volunteer Your Time and Resources
Deliver charitable contributions to a local organization, or volunteer to help distribute them to those in need. Bring groceries and good old-fashioned funds to a local food shelf. Donate clothes and housewares to nonprofit stores that benefit area organizations. Volunteer for the day at a homeless shelter, community program, or animal rescue organization. Adopt a family for the holiday season and shop for them instead.
Research demonstrates a physiological benefit to our altruistic ventures (e.g. lower stress, better sleep, enhanced immune function, and reduced pain), and even it didn’t, it’s a nice, virtuous thing to do. The key is to feel genuinely emotionally invested in our volunteer endeavors. Whatever feels meaningful, pursue it.
3. Work With Your Hands
This can mean almost anything. Expand yourself and do something a loved one will appreciate. Send humorous postcards to friends. Knit or carve a gift for someone special. Make wreaths or decorative winter planters for neighbors. Whip up some Primal jerky, gorp, tapenade, sauces, or infused vodka for friends. Finally tackle that little house project you’ve been putting off. Do some fall gardening.
4. Sleep In
Seriously. You know you want to. Imagine how much better you’ll feel than the folks who dragged themselves out of bed at 4:00 a.m. Sleep is the absolute best.
5. Play In the Leaves
I know you’ve got some laying around somewhere nearby. Go play in them, preferably with family and/or friends. The massive leaf piles were my favorite part of fall in New England. We’d have wet leaf fights, leaf wrestling matches, leaf diving competitions (you need at least four feet of densely packed leaves to break your fall). Though if you live on the outskirts of town, or the pile butts up against the forest, beware of ticks. The little jerks love residing in dark, dank leaf piles.
6. Invite the Neighbors For a Casual Open House
Doubly so if you’ve never done anything like this before and barely know their names. Sure, many of them will be chasing sales in the wee hours of the morning. No matter. They’ll be back. Throw together an informal, “post-sale” brunch or a cocktail hour spread. They’ll appreciate the hospitality and the return to a saner way of celebrating the holiday weekend.
7. Make a Day for Reminiscing (and Record the Occasion For Future Enjoyment)
Gather around to watch old family movies or slide shows on the computer. Tell your favorite stories of past holidays. Get a family photo taken, or videotape some play time in the backyard. It will be a more meaningful keepsake for this year’s holiday season that whatever you could’ve bought.
8. Rake the Leaves
Playing in a pile of leaves is an exultation of the chaos of nature. There are tens of thousands of individual leaves, and they’re absolutely everywhere once you’re done. It’s fun (especially for the kiddos), but then you also have to restore order by raking them up. Another option is to mow the leaves and start a compost pile.
9. Go On an Outdoor Pilgrimage
The fresh crisp fall air is perfect for a long, hard-outdoor excursion. You can push up the intensity without overheating and getting sweaty. Climb a certain mountain in your area. Hit a challenging trail. Walk the full distance of a local urban trail. Be in the moment, in that place. Allow the experience to dismiss all the buzz and distractions. Use the time to center yourself on what matters to you this holiday season. Make it the beginning of an annual (or weekly) tradition.
10. Train Outside
Hitting the gym is great, but why not do something different, somewhere different? Run some sprints outside. Swing a kettlebell. Get a game of Ultimate or basketball together. Go to the park early enough and do tai chi with the middle-aged Chinese people. Go trail running.
11. Seek Out the Light-Hearted
Hit a comedy club, or curl up with some loved ones and your favorite funny movies. Research shows that laughter reduces stress (unlike lines at the mall), boosts our immune function, relaxes our muscles, enhances circulation, relieves tensions, and decreases pain. Even if it didn’t do those things, laughter feels great. Isn’t that enough?
12. Prep Your Leftovers
Cooked poultry gets weird pretty quickly. If you wait more than a couple days to deal with the leftovers, they won’t be as fresh or tasty. You might even start getting that poultry slime, in which case all bets are off and you have to throw everything away.
Take an hour or so to get everything organized. Remove all the meat from the bones and set it aside. you can do so much with leftover turkey, from just treating it as a simple protein source to making turkey tetrazzini with spaghetti squash. I like chopping it roughly, adding some celery, some Primal mayo, some homemade cranberry sauce, and sometimes some hot sauce for Thanksgiving turkey salad. Make some turkey soup. Make bone broth. While others are eating food court Panda Express in between brawls over 2-for-1 down comforters, you’re getting the next week’s worth of healthy meals ready.
13. Do a Cold Plunge or Cold Shower
Exposing your body to cold water is a reset button on just about everything. It also boosts immune function and mood.
14. Finally, Drink Up Every Bit of Leisure
Read fiction while taking a hot bath. Watch good TV or film. Binge, even. I always use this day to watch A Christmas Story (wrong holiday, but still), and while it’s hilarious, it’s also incredibly touching. One of my favorite scenes is when the parents sit together, quietly enjoying the tree while the kids fall asleep and the snow falls outside.
Sometimes the best part of a holiday is the quiet hours after the agenda’s been satisfied and the dishes are washed. It’s somehow the part I always enjoy the most. It’s when people are most unscheduled and unfettered. The best conversations unfold amidst the comfortable silence. Why rush it? Just sit with it. The best of life so often happens in the lulls, the interludes, the end of a great evening. Don’t miss it.
Thanks for reading today, everybody. On Friday, the Worker Bees will be showing how they’re spending their Black Friday Primal-style. Be sure to stop by, and have a great holiday week.