Thanksgiving, more than any other holiday, is associated with huge family get-togethers. Whether it’s relatives from near and far coming together for a big, festive reunion, sharing all the blessings for which they are grateful, or a day filled with the stress of annoying, overbearing relatives, it is still considered a family holiday set against the backdrop of tons of delicious food. But for some people, there may not be a bunch of relatives to get together with. It may be by choice – some people would rather avoid the family stress and squabbles – or it may be due to distance or loss. Either way, spending a holiday alone, especially one that is constantly being discussed in terms of big family crowds, can be hard.
My husband and I, for example, have no family to spend the holidays with. For the past few years, it has been just the two of us. And while that can be sad and lonely, we still figure out ways to celebrate because we know we have much to be thankful for. So if you are on your own for the holidays, for whatever reason, here are some tips on how to make it a festive Thanksgiving celebration for the two of you.
1. Try to See the Bright Side
It can be hard to spend a holiday alone, but there can also be advantages. So many people dread the holiday because of the stress involved in being with family. The reality is that not every family is the warm and loving one we see in the movies. If the idea of being with your family elicits more anxiety than warm and fuzzy feelings, think twice about putting yourself through it. Spend a relaxing day with no arguments or stress. If you are not alone by choice, relish the good memories you have of your family and of being with them in the past. Those memories are precious; not everyone has them.
Another advantage of celebrating alone is that you can eat what you want and you don’t have to worry about making anyone happy but yourself. You don’t need to explain your dietary choices to anyone, and you don’t need to explain, yet again, why there is no turkey on your table. Instead, the holiday becomes a more relaxing time where you can focus on what you want, what makes you happy, what you want to eat, what you are thankful for, and what you hope to create in the future.
2. Start New Traditions
There is no reason that your celebration needs to be a tiny version of the usual big family gathering. Trying to recreate the traditional celebration without the guests might lead you to focus on whom and what is missing. Instead, why not make new traditions? Think about things that are important to each of you and share those experiences. Take a long walk or hike, just the two of you, or take the dogs. Collect pieces of nature along the way. My table is always decorated with beautiful autumn leaves and pine cones that my husband brings back from his walks with our dog. Take photographs of the scenery to capture the moments. Use special dishes, bowls, and serving platters that are reserved for special occasions. Share a bottle of vegan wine and toast to all the things you are grateful for and all that is yet to come.
Not having a dozen people is no reason you can’t go out and toss a football, but if that’s not your thing, how about starting a tradition of an annual holiday Scrabble tournament or some other game you both enjoy? Thanksgiving may not be thought of as a gift-giving holiday, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t surprise each other with a small token of affection, maybe something handmade, a framed photo, or a poem, to add more smiles to the day. When you create your traditions, it cements the day in your mind as a “real holiday” and gives you something to look forward to each year.
Every year it may be just the two of us, but I still cook as if we were having a crowd. First of all, I have never been good at cooking in small quantities – a habit I picked up from my mother. Second, cooking a lot means leftovers all week! You might think there is no one to impress, but that isn’t true. The two of you matter. Sure, you can just order Chinese food or a pizza, but that won’t make it feel like a real holiday. Whatever you would have cooked for guests, make it for yourselves but scale it down a bit. You can prepare a small entrée or two, stuffing, gravy, and just a couple of side dishes. Our usual Thanksgiving meal is either a vegan roast (sandwiches and pot pies all week!) or some Gluten-Free and Vegan “Turkey” Cutlets, my Onion, Celery, and Mushroom Stuffing, mashed white or sweet potatoes, mushroom gravy, a vegetable side such as my Delicata Squash Rings or Roasted Lemon-Thyme Brussels Sprouts and a big kale salad. For dessert, we only need one thing so I usually make one cake or pie, such as my Pear Crumb Cake or Carrot Walnut Cake with Cream Cheese Maple Frosting. Since it’s just the two of you, you can make whatever you love and not have to worry about pleasing anyone else.
Gratitude: Plant-Based Thanksgiving Cookbook
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4. Or, Don’t Cook
Maybe your new Thanksgiving tradition involves staying out of the kitchen. Get dressed up and head out for a night on the town. That’s right, turn Thanksgiving into date night! Relax, let someone else serve you, and don’t worry about the cooking or the cleaning up afterward. Many vegan restaurants are open on the holidays; just be sure to make your reservations super-early and if the restaurant is not a vegan one, make your dietary needs clear well in advance.
If you would rather cozy up and stay in but still don’t want to cook, order your food in, but again, skip the pizza and lo mein. Many restaurants offer special Thanksgiving menus that you can pick up and bring home. Be sure to order enough, so you have leftovers to munch on all week.
5. Get Out of Town
Thanksgiving can be the beginning of a long weekend, and that means the two of you can pack a bag or two and get away for a mini-vacation. Book a room at a vegan bed and breakfast or an animal sanctuary guesthouse. Check out the sights of a town or city you have always wanted to visit. Curl up in front of a fire with a good book or spend the weekend hiking, skiing, or skydiving. If traveling is not an option, try getting away without going away. Research which local hotels are located right in your own town. Even if it’s for just a night or two, you can relax, order room service, get a massage or have a drink at the bar. Now that’s something to be thankful for! Check out 10 Awesome Green (and Veg) Places to Stay During the Holidays for more ideas.
6. ‘Tis Better to Give and Receive
We all know it’s better to give than to receive but getting can be fun too. If shopping is your idea of fun, start your holiday gift shopping early. You can brave the crowds in the stores or snuggle up with some vegan hot chocolate in front of your computer and shop online. While shopping for everyone else, start a new tradition to get something for yourself, like a new vegan cookbook or a new juicer.
Of course, on the day when we focus on being grateful, it’s always a good idea to remember those who are less fortunate. Even better is doing something to help. There is no better day (though any day is a good day to help) to volunteer your services. Offer your services at a local soup kitchen so others can enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. Volunteer at your local animal shelter so the dogs and cats waiting for homes can get walks, hugs, and much-needed attention. See 6 Reasons to Volunteer at Your Local Animal Shelter or Sanctuary. Clean out your closets and Donate your old clothes, coats, and shoes to the needy. Ditto for canned and packaged foods. Donate to your favorite charity, animal organization, or sanctuary. Adopt a turkey or other farm animal that lives in an animal sanctuary. It also makes a thoughtful, caring gift.
7. Have Fun
The most important tip is to have fun. Focus on what you do have and count your blessings. Enjoy starting new traditions, spending time with someone you love, and eating incredible food. Go out or stay home, play games or watch the parade on television, cook, or let someone else do the cooking. It’s your day. Do what you love and what makes you happy. And have fun!
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