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Alternatives to a Traditional Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving is a complicated holiday, cherished by some, overlooked by others, and now obscured by football games and holiday preparations. Though some people enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving celebration, you can find alternative and creative ways to celebrate the long holiday weekend in Arkansas.

Hoots BBQ in McGehee 

Change up the menu

Although turkey has long reigned as the essential Thanksgiving food, there are other choices that might better fit the palates of young eaters or picky relatives and support local farmers and businesses. Consider some Arkansas alternatives to your traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Visit the Museum of Native American History or other local area museums

Old State House Museum photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Heritage, Parks and Tourism

 A great way to celebrate Thanksgiving weekend is by reflecting on the history of the holiday, the state and your own local community. Arkansas is full of wonderful local museums that tell the story of the state.

  • Museum of Native American History (MONAH), located in Bentonville, is a wonderful museum that celebrates the culture and history of Native America in Arkansas and beyond. Although the museum is closed Thanksgiving Day, it’s open the day before and after, and admission is always free. November is also Native American Heritage month and is the perfect time to visit.
  • Shiloh Museum of Ozark History captures the prehistory and history of Northwest Arkansas. Located in Springdale, it has free admission and features permanent exhibits, historic buildings and online collections.
  • Old State House Museum in Little Rock is the state’s original Capitol building and tells the story of Arkansas from territory to statehood and beyond. It’s free to the public.

 Go antiquing or shop in your local downtown shops

Downtown Mena offers numerous antique shops. Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Heritage, Parks and Tourism.

It’s true that Thanksgiving weekend has been branded as the weekend to kick off Christmas shopping, but you can bring new meaning to the shopping frenzy by focusing on locally-owned stores and shopping at antique and second-hand stores to cut down on commercialism and consumerism. Check out downtown Prairie Grove, Eureka Springs, Mena, and Searcy for unique antique shops.

Get Outdoors

Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Heritage, Parks and Tourism.

The idea of Green Friday, getting outside the day after Thanksgiving, has been gaining steam, but it’s not too early to get outdoors on Thanksgiving, either. After all, Arkansas is the Natural State and has so many beautiful places to explore.

  • Visit one of Arkansas’s 52 state parks and go hiking, biking, or find those scenic overlooks that make the state so special. Some parks are holding activities on Thanksgiving Day, and nearly every park will have planned activities for Green Friday. Find the slate of events at arkansasstateparks.com
  • Search for your own wild turkeys, plus other types of Arkansas wildlife, at one of Arkansas’s nature reserves and natural areas. These protected spaces display Arkansas’s original natural landscape. There are 78 protected natural areas in Arkansas, making it easy to find one near you. Visit com for more information.
  • The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission (AGFC) maintains nine nature centers throughout the state. Visitors can wander through trails, spot wildlife, visit indoor exhibits that include live animals, and sign up for classes or workshops. Find a nature center near you at com.

Have a family scavenger hunt


Do you know where this mural is in Siloam Springs?

Thanksgiving usually means seeing relatives you haven’t seen all year or even longer. If you’re not sure what to do, why not organize a family scavenger hunt. This can be as simple as spotting things in your own backyard or neighborhood or using the opportunity to show off your Arkansas town. Create clues that take your family to well-known places or best-kept secrets inside your city, or subtly guide them to your favorite coffee shop for an after-meal cup and pastry.

Host your own tailgate

Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Heritage, Parks and Tourism.

Embrace that football feeling and create a tailgate in your backyard or driveway. Instead of traditional turkey, take the opportunity to have brats, burgers, nachos, or your favorite pre-game food. Throw in some games of horseshoes, cornhole, and touch football to really get your Thanksgiving party in gear. Ask guests to wear their favorite team gear, whether it’s the Razorbacks, the Red Wolves, or an NFL team. Include a face painting costume for fun or for prizes.

Volunteer for an Arkansas-based non-profit organization

Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Heritage, Parks and Tourism.

 Arkansas has a state full of charities and non-profit organizations that serve the state well. Use Thanksgiving as the impetus to contact one of these organizations and volunteer your time or services. Find out if they’re holding any Thanksgiving weekend events, but if not, offer to help anyway.

Find the perfect Christmas Tree

Many Arkansas Christmas tree growers use Thanksgiving week as their opening week on their local Christmas tree farms. Take the opportunity to visit a local grower, support them, and find a beautiful Christmas tree this Thanksgiving weekend.

However you choose to spend Thanksgiving in Arkansas, enjoy the time with friends and family, and you never know, you might just start some new Thanksgiving traditions.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Only In Arkansas and First Security Bank.

Meet the
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Kimberly S. Mitchell loves journeys, real or imagined. She has hiked the Inca Trail, walked into Panama on a rickety wooden bridge and once missed the last train of the night in Paris and walked several miles home (with friends). She believes magic can be found in life and books, loves to watch the stars appear, and still dreams of backpacking the world. Now she writes adventures to send her characters on journeys, too. Pen & Quin: International Agents of Intrigue - The Mystery of the Painted Book is her debut novel. Find out more at KSMitchell.com.

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