How to Get Excited About a Weird Thanksgiving
Staying home is the safest thing to do but it doesn’t have to be a bummer
In my twenties I lived in Chicago and flew home to Connecticut only once for Thanksgiving (so that I could attend my 5-year high school reunion which was ill-advised). Being a plane ride away meant I couldn’t afford to come home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. So for 7 years, my Thanksgivings were whatever I wanted them to be, a scary but ultimately liberating practice for a person who had previously celebrated by the book — with a big family, a home-cooked meal, and an aunt who makes phenomenal pies.
That first year “alone,” only 2 months after moving to Chicago, my boyfriend and I literally filled up a laundry bag of pots and pans and schlepped it onto the subway, which we took uptown from the Gold Coast to my friend’s apartment in Boystown. As luck would have it, she had also just moved from CT to Chicago to attend college and her and her sister were not flying home.
(We went to her place and not ours because we had no space — we were renting a studio apartment where everything was built into the wall, the sink and oven were on one wall and our bed dropped down from the opposite wall. But we did have more pots and pans than her, so we brought them to share.)
Although everything about that Thanksgiving felt bizarro and frankly wrong, it also felt incredibly adult. Up until that point, the thought hadn’t occurred to me that anyone but my mom (and aunt who makes the pies) could prepare a Thanksgiving dinner. But we managed to cook some things that were edible and good! Later that night, desperate for some bit of holiday normalcy and home, we walked over to a nearby Blockbuster and rented Home Alone. This was 2009.
For a stretch of years, my boyfriend and I celebrated with another couple, our friends who were transplants from Pittsburgh, and who were also not traveling home for the holiday. These were some of my favorite Thanksgivings because the sting of not seeing my family started to fade and the excitement over building my own holiday began to grow. We turned those Thanksgivings into long holiday weekends, driving up north to historic Galena, IL and down south to Louisville, KY. We ate our Thanksgiving day meals in restaurants. This was a foreign concept to me, but then I did it and realized it didn’t actually matter.
Then, after years of being radicalized by non-family, restaurant-funded Thanksgivings, I fully crossed over to the dark side when I celebrated Thanksgiving at a Rainforest Cafe in downtown Chicago (RIP Clark St. Cha! Cha!). None of our friends were around, and I was tired of trying to attempt anything resembling a traditional Thanksgiving. I wanted to fully detach from reality by drinking a CoronaRita inside a simulated rainforest in winter in Chicago. I treated it like a fact-finding expedition and the absurdity helped to distract me from any sadness I may have felt celebrating a holiday inside America’s #5 most beloved themed restaurant.
So this Thanksgiving, the best advice I can give is to treat your holiday like a new holiday. So long as you are following CDC guidelines, not traveling and ideally celebrating only with members of your household, this may be the first time in your life you can plan the day you want. You may not have another opportunity like this again. So embrace that power. Go ahead and eat what you want, watch what you want, and play whatever games you want.
You can make one dish and order out for the rest. Or order everything (from small businesses who have great cheeses and olives and would love your support)! You can keep a running Zoom screen open and allow friends and family to “stop by” and observe you in various states of lounge. It’s not too late to get your cat a costume that they will hate but will entertain you for hours. Send photos to your friends and family, they will be jealous.
And it’s not too late to buy fairy lights and string them up around the windows so you feel warm and bright. If it’s not too cold, you can take a walk in your neighborhood and peer into the windows of your neighbors (who know we’re all looking and they obviously keep the blinds open so we can gawk at their amazing light fixtures). You can watch the dog show and decide once and for all who is the goodest good boy. You can say, “from this Thanksgiving forward, I’m going to do X” and then like magic, you’ve established a fun, new tradition to call your own.