turkey day

The Case for Spending Thanksgiving Alone

Bubble baths are better than turkey. Photo: Harold M. Lambert

In just over a week, we will all gather, separately, for the weirdest Thanksgiving anyone can remember. Large family meals are all but forbidden — they are, at the very least, unwise — and the friends and co-workers I know are among the millions of Americans who are wondering how, exactly, they’ll celebrate the holiday this year. My advice for them, and for anyone else who will listen, is to spend Thanksgiving the way I do every year: totally, and blissfully, alone.

My affinity for solo Thanksgivings got its start about ten years ago, when I first moved to New York from Oregon. As the last Thursday in November rolled around, I found myself too wiped out to make the journey to New Jersey to have dinner at the house of my one aunt who lives nearby. It also didn’t make financial sense to fly back across the country when I’d do so again, a month later, for Christmas. My roommates all offered me a seat at their tables, but I instead declined their invitations, ordered my favorite Japanese curry, and binged on 30 Rock over the course of four perfect days.

Since then, my Thanksgivings have played out like the titles of Friends episodes: The one where I spent the day in a too-small bathtub. The one where I bought, and completed, the new Assassin’s Creed game in 48 hours. The one where I went hiking and listened to Adele because of a boy. And, yes, the one where I watched Friends and didn’t wear real pants for three days.

Every year, my friends and family thoughtfully invite me to their Thanksgiving celebrations. And every year I must turn them down. As I do, I see the inevitable pity in their eyes and I hear the question they are too shy to ask: Won’t you be terribly lonely?

The answer is, not really. While other families stress about their turkeys, break out the fancy plates, argue about Trump, and remember why it is they all moved hundreds of miles away from each other in the first place, I bliss out. For four wonderful days each year, I am liberated from the burden of anyone else’s expectations. New York City is empty, and I am free.

The freedom extends to cooking, too. I need only cater to my own taste buds, so I can make anything I want: One year, Chrissy Teigen’s jalapeño-cheddar corn pudding was the star of the show. The year after, I perfected a vegan shepherd’s pie by topping it with mustard mashed potatoes and simmering lentils in red wine. Usually, there is a side of Gouda-and-scallion biscuits. This year, if everything goes according to plan — and it always does, because there’s nobody else to mess things up — I want to perfect my recipe for deep-fried nacho dumplings, which are exactly what they sound like.

After dinner I might grab a book, or watch a movie, or just hang out with my dog. Inevitably, I will take my now-annual Thanksgiving bath. (I’ve moved to an apartment with a much larger tub, thankfully.) This is my plan, and my tradition, and it never lets me down.

This year, of course, convention is out the window. Anyone who usually feels obligated to attend their own family’s Thanksgiving dinners now has the same freedom I found all those years ago. This is not — let’s be clear — some kind of bright spot or silver lining to the horrors that currently grip this country, and I know even my own solitary tradition won’t be quite as wonderfully freeing as it has in the past. But it is still a moment to breathe, to get creative, and to finally relax, if only for a day or two.

The Case for Spending Thanksgiving Alone