How to Enjoy Being Alone on Thanksgiving
How to Celebrate Thanksgiving Without Family or Friends
So, you are going to be alone and perhaps even in a strange city on Thanksgiving and the very idea is getting you down. Cheer up, and welcome to the club! Many Americans don't gather around a groaning board surrounded by family and friends on Thanksgiving. Some people are alone by choice and others by circumstance. Whatever your situation, you can choose to get maudlin about the whole thing or you can have a super fabulous day with help from some of the tips listed below.
Lower Expectations to Combat Stress
The holiday season is the time of year when our family problems, insecurities, personal vices and other issues are inflamed. There are an infinite number of expectations we set for ourselves that make us look ourselves in the mirror with a critical eye and believe that we have something inherently wrong with us. It is important to lower our expectations to baseline this Thanksgiving to prevent succumbing to a depressive state.
If you know you are going to be alone and not working, try to find a kindred soul or souls ahead of time, and make plans to get together for a Thanksgiving meal. It can be a potluck at somebody's house or a seasonal feast at a fancy restaurant. One year, I went to a local diner with a group of women who were alone for one reason or another. It was great. It's a way of observing the holiday without pain. If you are working on Turkey Day, plan some sort of celebration with coworkers. Make a plan, and do something to give the day a little structure.
Make the Day YOURS
If you are going to be alone, do what you feel like doing and not what you think you should do. That is, don't go to somebody's house for Thanksgiving just because you think you should. Sometimes, being grafted on to somebody else's family celebration can make you feel more alone than being alone. Do what you want to do. Feel like going to the gym? If it's open, do it. Feel like taking a hike or catching a film or concert? Do it. Don't feel you have to eat turkey either. If your idea of a great meal is pizza, then get a pizza. In fact, it might be a good idea to NOT go anywhere near traditional Thanksgiving food if you are on your own for the day.
Do Unto Others
I know it is going to sound like a cliché, but if your church or temple has a soup kitchen or if there is a local food pantry or charity dinner, you might want to plan to work for them on Thanksgiving. There is nothing to make you grateful for what you have like helping those who have less—they do call it Thanksgiving for a reason, you know.
Did You Know?
There is a new normal in American eating trends. A 2012 Hartman Group study revealed that 40% of all adult meals are eaten alone.
Stay in Touch via Facetime/Skype
Through the wonders of the internet and video calling, you can now stay in touch with your family on Thanksgiving without actually being with them. Sometimes, I think this is the best of all worlds, but then my family history is full of contentious Thanksgiving dinners (a story for another article). I also love getting videos from everybody to replay later over the long weekend.
It might be a good idea to explore some new terrain if you have the means. Plenty of vacation destinations offer single group tours, so just because you're by yourself doesn't necessarily mean that you have to travel alone. There are plenty of ways to get your healthy dose of social interaction while experiencing a different part of the world if you so choose.
Bunker Down and Survive the Day
It is important to be present with yourself and mindful of your own feelings, but keep in mind that the day will pass. Watch a couple movies to help pass time or tune into the big Macy's Day Parade if that's what you're into. A nice meal and a solid nap will have you back to your regular scheduled programming.
More Tips for Celebrating Thanksgiving Alone
Lots of people have to work on Thanksgiving. If that is your situation, know that your coworkers will be working too and make a point of enjoying the day with them. I have a friend who is divorced with grown children and who is a nurse at a local hospital—she always signs up to work on Thanksgiving and always has a wonderful time sharing the day with patients and their families. She also gets paid overtime which goes a long way towards making her thankful too.
Students, ex-pats, the recently divorced, and the widowed all huddle together at holiday time, like cows under a tree before a rainstorm. If you will be among their ranks, the trick is to not feel sorry for yourself, but to let go and enjoy the day.
Personally, I enjoy my own company and cherish my solitude. I am often with family and friends on Thanksgiving, but have chosen to spend a few Thanksgivings by myself. I have had some wonderful, serendipitous Thanksgivings alone or with a band of other solo celebrants. Sometimes complete strangers can be better Thanksgiving dinner companions than far-flung family.
I've been on my own for the past decade and before that was married for 33 years, raising two children, working, playing, and generally juggling life. My husband and I were both only children of divorced parents, so the holiday season always presented familial challenges, but we were inventive, and it was always fun.
I have cooked many turkeys and presided over many tables, which is perhaps why I am so serene about being on my own for Thanksgiving. But even for me, it does take a bit of planning. Here are my tips gleaned over the years from here and there.
Thanksgiving Dinner for One
One way to take the lonely out of alone on Thanksgiving is to go all the way and cook yourself a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. Whether you polish up the family silver and get out the best china or buy a package of holiday paper plates, set a festive table and make it special.
Frozen turkey dinners can seem pretty pathetic, but for the truly hopeless cook, they can be a Thanksgiving solution if, and ONLY if, you nuke the dinner and then put it on your best china plate, use real sliver and cloth napkin, and sit yourself down at a real table to eat it like a real meal. Ditto if you go out to your local deli or fast food place and get take out turkey with all the trimmings.
Presentation, as the French are fond of saying, is everything when it comes to food. No scarfing your Thanksgiving dinner down in front of the TV. Sit down at a real table in a real chair and eat like a real human being off real plates with real cutlery and chew with your mouth closed, ok? Oh, you can listen to music if you want—but NO TV.
Did You Know?
According to a 2006 survey by the American Psychological Association, one in four Americans report experiencing loneliness during the holiday season.
The Holiday Blues
Reported experiences of depression peak during the holiday season, oftentimes due to excessive self-reflection, obligations, and everyday stressors.
How you feel and what you get out of being alone on Thanksgiving is really all about your intention. Author Sasha Cagen shared insights with the Huffington Post from her book, Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics: “Spending time alone during a holiday, if you’re intentional about it, can be really meaningful and a beautiful experience."
Ultimately, it is always best to anticipate and recognize any feelings of sadness before proactively planning to combat them.
Managing the Holiday Blues
Be Genuinely Grateful: No matter our circumstances, we can always express appreciation for the little things in life. Use this time of solitude to take in the beauty of the sounds, smells, and sights around you.
Limit Your Alcohol and Drug Use: Now is not the time to magnify your feelings with stimulants or depressants. Try coping with exercise or meditation instead.
Practice Self-Care: Reduce stress levels by eating healthy, getting a massage, walking the park or doing anything else that brings you comfort.
Being physically alone doesn’t mean that you are by yourself. One of our biggest illusions is that we are separated from others.
Links to Recipes for Solo Cooks on Thanksgiving
For those with greater culinary skills, here are some links to Thanksgiving menus for one and hints on how to enjoy.
Traditional Thanksgiving Roast Turkey Dinner for One: Excellent step-by-step instructions with illustrations on cooking legs and breasts with stuffing for one.
Reviews of Frozen Turkey Dinners on Wandering Chopsticks: Absolutely fabulous rundowns and recommendations for Thanksgiving meals for one featuring frozen turkey dinners.
Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner Recipes for One Person: Look no further than author HubberGordon Hamilton for fabulous inventive Thanksgiving recipes for one.
Read more on American eating trends: https://www.hartman-group.com/press-release/49/eating-alone-is-the-new-normal-reports-the-hartman-group