How to Survive Thanksgiving Away from Your Family

Take Charge on 11.19.12
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Photo: Christopher Schmidt/Creative Commons

The hardest part of moving away from our hometown five years ago has been celebrating holidays without family and friends. Thanksgivings spent far from loved ones will never be exactly like the ones you spend surrounded by parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t still be joyous occasions – or at least not depressing ones.

Acknowledge the day.

It’s tempting to act like a holiday without loved ones is just another day. Thanksgiving is always the worst for me because it’s the one we’re least likely to travel home for and it seems like everyone celebrates it. And cooking a turkey feast for four? It’s just not the same. Every year I try to convince my husband that we should just skip all the extra cooking and cleaning up. Every year he ends up talking me into doing something to celebrate. I’m so glad he does.

Staying home and pretending like the rest of our neighbors aren’t gathering around a table feels off. It just makes me miss home even more. Our family has chosen to dine with friends or taken advantage of the time off to have a mini-vacation in a nearby city.

Don’t try to replicate being home.

While trying to ignore Thanksgiving is a recipe for sadness, so is attempting to recreate our massive family get-togethers. One year I insisted on making exactly the same meal that my mother always made - I even pulled out my grandmother’s china – even though there would only be five people (including two small children) at dinner. I spent hours preparing an elaborate meal that took about 15 minutes to eat. My inability to reproduce the festive atmosphere of holiday meals back home was obvious, and it broke my heart.

Another year, we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving with local friends. We each brought over our favorite dishes, some of which were completely new to me, and we sat around the table laughing and sharing stories about our own family traditions. It wasn’t exactly what I was used to, but it certainly wasn’t less wonderful than what I would have experienced back home.

Create your own meaningful traditions.

That dinner with friends became an annual tradition we lovingly referred to as Orphan Thanksgiving and it was something I looked forward to each year. Now, however, both families live elsewhere and I find myself once again trying to figure out how to spend the holidays. I still don’t want to cook a massive meal for my small family, but we haven’t established new relationships with other “orphans” in Pittsburgh.

We’re looking at spending the day donating our time at a local soup kitchen or giving back in some way. This is a tradition that would represent our own values and what the holiday means to us. We’ve never done this before – our schedules were always too busy with multiple family meals to attend – but it’s something we’ve been meaning to do for a long time. If all goes well, I hope to make this our own family tradition.

How do you celebrate the holidays when you’re away from loved ones?

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Tags: Holidays