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I vividly remember the worst Thanksgiving I ever had. Growing up, the holiday was never a big deal in my immigrant family; usually, the four of us ate lasagna because none of us particularly liked turkey. Once I was in college, I didn’t feel called to spend time and money traveling home, especially since I was conflicted about celebrating the day at all. Fast-forward to 2016, weeks after the election: I was lying in the fetal position on a twin-XL bed, scrolling past portraits of classmates smiling next to their loved ones, feeling profoundly lonely and depressed. The only thing I ate that day was a frozen bean burrito from the CVS near campus.
Whether by choice or circumstance, plenty of people find themselves alone on Thanksgiving. Thanks to a horribly timed case of COVID, I might be spending the holiday in isolation once again this year. If you’ll be alone on Thanksgiving — hopefully not because of the coronavirus — it doesn’t have to be miserable. Here are some suggestions for how to spend your day.
For once you have a whole day free. Use it to pamper yourself! Start with a full-body scrub in the shower and a scented bath, followed by a luxurious moisturizer and an at-home facial. Add in a mani-pedi and drying time and you’ve taken up at least the entire afternoon. Blaring ’90s R&B is optional but recommended.
It’s a classic for a reason. If you don’t want to be alone on Thanksgiving, focus on being there for others. You’ll have the chance to connect with fellow volunteers, and you’ll get to spend your day doing something useful, whether it’s passing out meals or raking leaves. Ideally, reach out directly to an organization you’re familiar with, but if you’re looking for opportunities, you can check volunteer platforms like VolunteerMatch or Engage. If you’re in New York, you could try New York Cares — or Mutual Aid NYC, where you can connect with a mutual-aid group in your area if you’re interested in volunteering your time in a more sustained way.
Even if you keep a tidy home, when’s the last time you cleaned the inside of your oven, disinfected your dishwasher, or replaced your AC filter? If that’s too intense, you could always go with a classic closet clean-out or something more fun, like repotting plants or rearranging a bookshelf. Spending the day making your living space more pleasant to be in is a guaranteed comfort, and the act of cleaning can feel soothing and meditative. If you give yourself a task you know you can finish in one day, you’ll likely end up with a sense of accomplishment.
I’ve always found cooking something elaborate to be a huge comfort, especially in lonely times. I’m not the only one; fashion news writer Danya Issawi says her boyfriend spent three Thanksgivings in a row alone: “Each year he baked two pecan pies (??) to make himself feel better.” You, too, can bake two pecan pies, a giant lasagna, or perhaps a simple, delicious cornbread.
Sites like Meetup, Eventbrite, and even Reddit (find your local r/___meetups thread) are good places to find something to do on Thanksgiving with other people who might find themselves alone. I found pickup soccer games, parties, guided walks (including this absolutely wild Kennedy March), park hangs, and even potluck dinners. If you’re craving connection, go forth and hang.
Now is the time to watch all the Studio Ghibli films you haven’t seen or catch up on the year’s predicted Oscar nominees. Personally, I believe a screening of the Shrek movies is always in order. I haven’t seen the Star Wars films, but those seem like a good option, and I’d be remiss not to recommend a Fast & Furious marathon. If you don’t want a series or franchise but you do want a loose theme, you could structure your programming around a particular actor or director or a year or even a location (movies set in Chicago, for example). Or mermaids. There are several excellent mermaid-centric movies out there.
A walk is one of the best solo activities there is. If you’re in New York, Thanksgiving is as good a day as any to walk from the top to the bottom of Manhattan — just make sure you avoid the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route. If something rural is more your vibe, hiking trails are likely to be far less crowded than usual, and it’s easy to feel gratitude when you’re surrounded by trees. Many cities also host some variation of a “Turkey Trot” if you want to go on a walk or run with other people. Who knows, you might even get an invite to someone’s Thanksgiving dinner. Speaking of which …
If you really can’t stand to experience November 23 without a traditional Thanksgiving meal, you probably don’t have to. Thanksgiving is the one day of the year we’re all culturally conditioned to make sure no one spends alone. If you mention that you’ll be alone on Thanksgiving to someone, there’s a solid chance they’ll invite you over. Even if it’s a little awkward, it’ll probably be a good story — just ask features editor Jordan Larson, who once accepted an impromptu Thanksgiving invitation from a former hookup who, it turned out, had a girlfriend. Still, in the end, she says, “At least the food was good.”
It’s as good a day as any to catch up on your reading list. If you want something you can finish in one day, go for poetry — Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude comes to mind — or a really juicy novel you won’t be able to put down, like Bolu Babalola’s Honey & Spice, or even Britney Spears’s new memoir, The Woman in Me (the audiobook, of course). If you’re open to a longer read, I recommend Braiding Sweetgrass, which offers an Indigenous perspective on concepts like gratitude and reciprocity, all while teaching valuable lessons about plants.