And a turkey in a cranberry bush…
November 4, 2009 10:46 PM   Subscribe

Celebrating Thanksgiving by myself for the first time. Tips on making it meaningful and memorable?

It looks like I'll be alone for Thanksgiving for the first time in my life and I'm wondering what to do. My friends and family will all be out of town, so it'll just be me. Thanksgiving's always been one of my favorite holidays aside from Christmas (always within a week of my birthday and full of good food and family) and I feel the need to celebrate it, but haven't figured out what to do yet.

I've thought about helping distribute food to the needy, which I've done before and enjoyed, but I always hear stories about how everyone does that on Thanksgiving and my help could best be used another time. Is that generally true (I'm in Los Angeles if that helps)? If so, what are some other options for celebrating that won't leave me cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for one?
posted by fishmasta to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if you're looking to be around people or just having a memorable time, but some ideas:

1) How about a potluck meetup, either mefi or some other group you virtually hang out with but don't know the folks personally?

2) Head out to a neighborhood bar which is going to be open and which has food service. Bars are sort of the defacto destination for people at loose ends, and I've always enjoyed a sense of camaraderie with fellow "holiday loners" when I've gone.

2a) Do not try this at something like a Denny's. Worst thanksgiving ever.

3) Many "gourmet" supermarkets will sell you thanksgiving food (and pretty decent stuff at that, depending on the store) pre-cooked. So eat in, and eat well, but farm out the stuff you don't like preparing to the grocery so you can have a nice traditional meal without the hassle of cooking it. Order in your favorite movie, get an early start on holiday shopping online (if that's fun for you), make sure you have a good book, call your family--especially those you may not have seen for awhile. Resist all temptation to do housework, pay bills, or anything else that normally gives you grief at home. Maybe indulge in a small luxury, like a comfy new sweater.

Anyway, you seem to be approaching this without dread, so I think you'll have fun no matter what you decide to do. And if you want to serve the needy, go do it. I'm sure they'd rather have the help than not have it.
posted by maxwelton at 11:06 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

If I were you, I'd go volunteer at the soup kitchen. I don't believe it could get any more meaningful than that. :) Be with families who need other people. We've done it and it feels wonderful.
posted by magnoliasouth at 11:40 PM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, I am not a very social person and have made a couple Thanksgivings by myself. It is not hard to just celebrate by yourself, make the day great (and plus your birthday is just round the corner, so celebrate that too?) If you have pets, they will be around, remember them as family members) Honor everyone. especially yourself.
Take yourself out? Stay in? Probably you will be invited somewhere for dinner anyway, if you are and want to, this experience can be great. If not, be great to yourself.
Myself, I wouldn't cook the whole Thanksgiving meal for me alone, but then a whole turkey could be a freezer bonanza.
You can come to my house. I am sincere. At my place in life, we host Thanksgiving for many family AND others are always here and very welcome.
Let me know, I will set a place for you.
posted by bebrave! at 11:47 PM on November 4, 2009 [4 favorites]

Buy pre-roasted turkey from local market/grocery store.
Buy pre-made pie.


Make my own mashed potatoes.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:50 PM on November 4, 2009

I think your volunteer service would still be appreciated on Thanksgiving. And you would be with other people who maybe like you don't have people to hang out with. And maybe afterwards they want to go out for a drink and some dinner (this has happened to me on Christmas, and it was fun). If you think your time would be even more appreciated at another date, go both on Thanksgiving and on another date.
posted by bluefly at 12:56 AM on November 5, 2009

I spent several Thanksgivings alone before I went and got married.

I spent them at the diner, and then the bar when I got old enough.

The trick for me was to truly cherish my time alone, as opposed to loathing it. But if you're sufficiently extroverted, that might be difficult.
posted by Netzapper at 1:25 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

See if any of your friends, or even acquaintances you'd like to be friends, are in a similar predicament, and organize a small dinner. Maybe make it some sort of LA transplant theme (assuming you're not from LA originally), with a culturally-appropriated thanksgiving menu (I've been saying for years that one of these days I'm gonna make turkey and cranberry sushi rolls...).
posted by Jon_Evil at 2:00 AM on November 5, 2009

Facebook is good for announcing an orphans potluck if you'd like to host.

When I get to spend TG alone, I like to sleep in and then catch up on whatever it is I haven't had time to do; exercise, watch bad TV (start DVR'ing now), reading, whatever. Then I get to either cook whatever I'd like/order in/go out. And as others have said, your local pub should be hopping.

Other than that, does LA have a City # to call to see if there are volunteering opportunities? Or Red Cross or somesuch? I'd think that places other than soup kitchens would love your help.
posted by cestmoi15 at 5:03 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

If I were you, I'd go volunteer at the soup kitchen.

Just be aware that these volunteer slots fill up super fast (I'll skip the lecture on how the poor are always us), especially if you're not offering a specialized skill. Start calling around now, and try places other than the most obvious (i.e. there's the biggest soup kitchen in town, but there's also nursing homes and hospitals that might have visitor programs for the holidays, as well as meals on wheels programs, etc.). It does indeed feel good.
posted by availablelight at 5:10 AM on November 5, 2009

["the poor are always us", but what I meant to write was, "the poor are always among us"]
posted by availablelight at 5:10 AM on November 5, 2009

I've spent Thanksgiving alone since I was 17 and wouldn't have it any other way- in fact, it's my favorite holiday. Although, now that I'm married, "alone" includes husband, dogs and cat, but still no extended family. I cook the whole thing (because I am a turkey fiend) and all the leftovers are mine, mine, MINE! I rent a bunch of DVDs of TV shows and catch up on shows everyone else is talking about. I pretty much spend the whole 4 days in my pajamas eating, watching TV, and napping. It is the best holiday of the year for me because there is no family drama, there's no presents involved, and I have 4 whole days to be as lazy as I want. I clean up after myself, but other than that, I don't allow myself to do any other chores or weekend errands. I just comletely slug out, and it really charges my internal batteries for the rest of the winter holidays.
posted by dogmom at 5:38 AM on November 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Maybe instead of going to a soup kitchen and volunteering you could make a bunch of brown bag lunches and go pass them out yourself.

I agree that most soup kitchens and homeless shelters are probably swamped with volunteers on Thanksgiving, but maybe you could find a more creative way of spending your time helping others. Maybe an assisted living home could use your help making Thanksgiving nice for some of the elderly who don't have family in the area, or maybe you could help out at the Humane Society so that the regular workers can spend time with their families.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:17 AM on November 5, 2009

I had two Thanksgivings alone in a row -- the first one was two years ago, a year when my Grandfather had died about three weeks prior. The whole family flocked together for his funeral, and about a week later we all decided that flocking together again so soon was just much too mentally and emotionally exhausting to contemplate. So we all "cancelled" Thanksgiving that year; it was the first year I hadn't made the trek to be with family. I decided to make something as un-Thanksgiving as I could to eat, that was still festive -- I made a lamb stew with butternut squash, and decided that I would spend the day doing nothing but making that and watching TV or something relaxing and mindless.

Last year a few of us gathered for dinner on Saturday, but for Thanksgiving proper I was again alone -- and did something similar, where I cooked for myself and then spent the rest of the day watching a marathon of some show that was running all day (LAW AND ORDER SVU, I think). I made that dinner more "thanksgiving-y", but still it was all just for me.

Every single person I told this to both years blinked a bit and sighed in envy. It's kind of the best of both worlds -- you get the nice meal, but it is exclusively for you, so you can dress up if you want or wear pajamas if you want. You can pray if you want, or not. You can contemplate your gratitude, or you can watch Munch and Finn trade snark. It is entirely up to you, so it is entirely suited to what you need out of the day.

...The family's starting back up again with the big holidays. The chance of seeing my baby niece is too much of a draw to pass up, but I will kind of miss not having to do a damn thing if I didn't want to on Thanksgiving.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:40 AM on November 5, 2009

Do you have any elderly friends who won't be traveling to be with family, or whose family won't be traveling to be with them? If you think you might, get in touch and inquire about their Thanksgiving plans. You can host (and cook, if you feel like it, or order food in advance) or you can go out to a restaurant that will be open on Thanksgiving.

My family often does this for our big family holidays (just sort of figuring out who from our church or neighborhood was on their own) and it can add something really wonderful to the day. Some of those acquaintances became like members of our own family, and were especially important to me and my sister, since by our mid-teens we only had one grandparent left.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:57 AM on November 5, 2009

Alone on a holiday is good time to do something meaningful like sorting your scrapbook pictures, reviewing the notes for that novel, reading old love letters.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:59 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you do make a private feast for one, I recommend roasting a cornish game hen: festive, on-theme, tasty, and simple.
posted by carmicha at 8:29 AM on November 5, 2009

Every year since I was a little kid, we held Christmas proper on Christmas Eve, and then Christmas Day was when everyone went to the in-laws' house. What this has meant for me as an adult (and single, without in-laws) is that I'm on my own for Christmas Day.

Every Christmas Day, I have a personal ritual which involves pancakes, a run of DVDs, and sweatpants. It is AWESOME. It's the one day a year when I allow myself to do absolutely nothing but stuff my face with leftovers and watch an entire season of whatever TV show I'm into at the time. (Last year it was a season of Battlestar Galactica, the year before that a season of the Sopranos, etc.)

Think of Thanksgiving as your own personal holiday, just for YOU. Spend the entire day doing whatever would make you happiest, whatever that may be.
posted by ErikaB at 8:32 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you want Thanksgiving food but don't want to go all-out or get pre-cooked food, many grocery stores sell turkey tenderloins. My husband and I did that last year and had a meal but not gazillions of leftovers.

My first year post-college, I got together with a bunch of friends/acquantances and had a potluck dinner. Start asking around and extend invitations (or work something out if you can't host it). It was a fun Thanksgiving, although I wish I'd thought more about post-feast activities.
posted by bookdragoness at 9:36 AM on November 5, 2009

This is maybe a bit odd, but on the occasional Thanksgiving when I've been alone, I've gone on an overnight backpacking trip. Nothing makes you appreciate what you have like doing without it for a few days.
posted by workerant at 9:38 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

movie marathon and huge order of chinese take-out! my favorite kind of holiday when i kick out the family!!
posted by eatdonuts at 10:59 AM on November 5, 2009

Volunteer yes! But other places need volunteers besides soup kitchens. You could help with the TurkeyTrot in Long Beach or the Thanksgiving Day Run & Food Drive in La Canada. If you don't want to help with a run, you could just hop on the Volunteer section of Craigslist to see if there is anything interesting.
posted by Pangloss at 12:33 PM on November 5, 2009

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