Thanksgiving is a tricky holiday. The middle child nestled quietly in the backseat between Halloween and Christmas, oftentimes no one realizes it’s been forgotten in the car for at least half an hour while the rest of the family is merrily shopping inside. “Oh, Thanksgiving! You barely make a peep, you just slipped my mind!” Then Mom takes Thanksgiving through Dairy Queen to make up for her mistake and Thanksgiving begrudgingly accepts her apology between dejected bites of her Peanut Buster Parfait.
Poor Thanksgiving. Its minimal fanfare and high probability to find yourself in uncomfortable situations make it easy to look over. Spend it with family and there’s a good chance you’ll get sick of everyone in no time soon. Skip out on the familial festivities and you’re faced with spending a holiday on your own, which—let’s face it—is pretty goddamn depressing.
Whichever side of the coin you find yourself this year, you’ll need some kind of distraction to make it through in one piece. Thankfully, Milwaukee’s setting the table with a feast of options to excuse yourself from forced family fun or to keep your mind off the fact you are so, so alone.
1. Spend the day with some animals
Grandma’s house is pretty much a zoo anyway, right, people? Except there you likely won’t have the chance to witness an elephant take an exhilaratingly large poop. Increase those odds by heading to the Milwaukee County Zoo, which grants free admission to anyone with a Milwaukee County ID from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Take a crisp stroll through the grounds, work up a nice pre-dinner buzz while delighting in the antics of the river otters, and, hey, maybe you’ll even see a tiger eviscerate a turkey carcass. Wouldn’t that be fun? Plus, there is a baby giraffe there now, which is undoubtedly more adorable than whatever dumb baby your cousin is bringing to dinner.
2. Spend “Black Wednesday” doing something other than shots
Instead of spending the night before Thanksgiving watching people you kind of knew in high school take Jagerbombs and dole out high fives, get out of the house to do something far more worthwhile. Seminal hip-hop group Rusty Ps are throwing a 20th-anniversary show at Mad Planet and celebrating by reuniting all four original members. Across town at LuLu Cafe, relative newcomers Rx Drugs will work of the appetites of the pre-Thanksgiving crowd with free rock ’n’ roll, supported by the golden voice of perennially-vested Mark Waldoch. Plus, the Found Footage Festival will take the stage at Turner Hall to celebrate 10 years of screening super weird video relics preserved on VHS. There’s a pretty good chance this weekend Mom’s gonna sit the whole family down to relive your most awkward years caught on tape, anyway, so here’s your pass to skip out on salting those damn-near-healed wounds of youth.
3. Get off your ass and go for a run
The average American consumes 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day, which is disgusting. Negate a whopping 350 of those calories by lacing up your sneaks and hitting the pavement for a pre-feast 5K. The Drumstick Dash takes place Thanksgiving morning, and sends ambitious runners winding around 3.1 miles of the scenic parking lots surrounding Miller Park. And before the shame of eating half a pecan pie in one sitting sets in, you can feel good about yourself by giving to Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, who will provide three meals for families in need for every dollar donation they receive that day. Plus, you get a cool t-shirt to let everyone know you’re slightly less slothful than they are. It’s a win-win. But sign up quick; online registration closes November 24th.
4. Express your gratitude for alcohol
You’re going to need to keep a nice stash of alcohol to drink alone in your childhood bedroom this weekend. Thankfully, this city never takes a holiday from supplying its residents with a steady flow of beer. So even if you went through your entire reserve while fielding mildly racist remarks from grandpa Wednesday night, you can still head out to resupply at Ray’s Growler Gallery & Wine Bar or Discount Liquor, both open on Thanksgiving Day. On Black Friday, beer nerds everywhere can rejoice in a couple opportunities to score rare brews that will impress their pals on the Beer Advocate forums. Discount Liquor’s White Whale sale promises the opportunity to stock up on a variety of limited-release beers from breweries across the country and Lakefront Brewery is once again opening their doors early to hawk their ultra-limited release Black Friday™ Imperial Stout Aged In Bourbon Barrels. This year, after waiting in line for approximately four hours, you’ll be blessed with the chance to buy up to three 22-ounce bottles ($15 each). The hunger for stocking up on limited-run beer won’t be the only thing satiated that day; throughout the morning, the brewery will serve hot food and beverages outside and heartier breakfast food inside the hall. So, go ahead, stand to your heart’s delight, eat a hot dog at 8 a.m., bring home your brew, and after all the hullabaloo feel okay about not sharing it with your family.
5. Knock out some shopping by keeping it local
You’ve got some time to kill and a terrifyingly-lengthy holiday shopping list. Rather than risking anxiety and the potential for injury by sojourning to the mall this weekend, throw a little money in the direction of local businesses on Small Business Saturday. All over the city, local shops and restaurants will be offering discounts on merchandise, free gifts with purchase, and complimentary treats and beverages while you shop. Check out the deals going on in the shopping mecca Third Ward neighborhood, or save yourself the headache of circling to find parking and the inevitable parking ticket that ensues and knock out all your shopping under one roof at the Urban Garage Sale. Back in its eighth installment, the Urban Garage sale fills Milwaukee’s Turner Hall with gifts from dozens of local shops, artists, and makers. From handcrafted jewelry from A Happy Thought, toys from Plushzilla, vintage clothing from Tambour, hand-printed textiles from Loft Studios and more, there are enough sweet, handmade gifts to cross off everyone on your list. Your money is going straight to local makers, and you’ll walk away with some truly unique gifts (and, let’s be honest, probably a couple fun things for yourself, too). The sale runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and $4 gets you in the door. Kids are free.
6. Go hog-wild for beer at the Harley-Davidson Museum
What’s more American than eating a remorseful amount of food, sittin’ ‘round watchin’ some pigskin, and engaging in light fisticuffs with your uncle? Beer and motorcycles, dude! The day after Thanksgiving, head to the Garage at the Harley-Davidson museum to nurse your post Turkey-Day hangover by fueling yet another hangover in the wings. The fourth annual Black Friday Beerfest promises three hours of sampling suds from ciders to Imperial IPAs, brought to you by some of Wisconsin’s (and a few out-of-staters’) best craft breweries. Forty dollars gets you general admission to the event, while $60 buys you a VIP pass, including early entry, a bottle opener, a sweet-ass can koozie, and a pretzel necklace for palate-cleansing and inebriation-suppressing purposes.
7. Screw Thanksgiving, bring on Christmas
Sure, Thanksgiving offers a peaceful moment to gather around the table with friends and family, affording the time to truly appreciate all life’s blessings and all that nonsense. Lame! Shut up and give us some twinkly lights and maybe an outdoor laser show or something. Christmas is where it’s at, nerds, and thankfully there are plenty of places in Milwaukee that usher in the one true holiday to rule them all, leaving Thanksgiving caught in a Looney Tunes-esque cloud of dust in its wake. The pumpkin pie’s barely cooled by the time Candy Cane Lane in West Allis is awash in a glow of red, green, and those gigantic inflatables that some young hooligan is definitely going to pop before December arrives. Beginning Thanksgiving night, nearly 300 homes in the designated community transform into a cacophony of light-emitting diodes, so head over and give a donation to the MACC Fund while you’re there. Ever wanted to see some big-ass bones drenched in the warm, white glow of Christmas? You’re in luck, pal! At 11:30 a.m. on November 27th, the Milwaukee Public Museum is holding a special ceremony for the official lighting of the humpback whale skeleton that hangs in its entrance, which is completely a thing that is not weird at all. No bones about it, it’s something you’ve got to “sea.”