Judo vs. crap Thanskgivings! Who will emerge victorious?
November 22, 2006 2:18 AM   Subscribe

It's gonna be a rotten Thanksgiving. Nothing tragic's happened, it's just that circumstances have conspired to make it rotten this year. What are some of the things you've done to alleviate or turn around a holiday you know isn't going to be the tiniest bit festive at all?

Me, I'm stuck all alone thousands of miles away from any family. Me, and my stuff, in moving boxes. Suck! But surely many of you have had your share of crap holidays – not tragic holidays, crap holidays – that you've turned into at least tolerable events. That's what I'm interested in, more than advice specifically geared to my situation. (After all, it's just a brief outline, and I can't really make you get to know me in the space of an AskMe question.) Stories, then! Perhaps I will find a spark somewhere in there.
posted by furiousthought to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Head to a pub, where you know (or suspect) people will be. I'm sure you'll find another soul in the same predicament, and you can drown your sorrows together. It also helps if you be positive and convince yourself that it's not all that bad.
posted by cholly at 2:36 AM on November 22, 2006

How about volunteering in a soup kitchen or something? It'll:

a) show you that your Thanksgiving's not nearly as sucky as you believe it to be
b) help you make other people's Thanksgiving that little bit cheerier (what could be more festive than that?)
c) let you meet new people
posted by RokkitNite at 2:49 AM on November 22, 2006

Act like there is no holiday. I have done this often, and it tends to work well, except possibly with Christmas.

Since I'm abroad, and in the southern hemisphere, I tend to forget the holidays for real. Yesterday I looked to see when Thanksgiving was, and promptly forgot. I'm alone this year, my partner has to travel for business. No big deal. Maybe I'll buy some turkey, maybe not. At least I can have my squash in South Africa, they eat it more than we did even in Michigan!
posted by Goofyy at 3:12 AM on November 22, 2006

If you are in the United States, a Thanksgiving day when everyone else is otherwise occupied is a great opportunity to devote to a time-consuming, concentration-demanding personal project. For instance, you could:

- organize/tag/crop/upload a backlog of photos or video (with the added bonus that work on family memorabilia is a way of sharing with far-away relatives)
- do a marathon viewing of a (whole) box set of a TV show that you want to get into (Lost? 24?) or that you remember fondly (for instance, I am super-excited to watch my new Alien Nation box set).
- take on some big Wikipedia project that you have been wanting to pursue
- make a really complicated meal (whether traditional Thanksgiving fare or not) for yourself (if the moving box situation permits)
- read a book that you have been waiting to read
- write/make postcards for everyone you care about
- go to a museum/gallery/show/tourist attraction that you want to explore slowly

I have spent Thanksgiving and other occasions alone doing some of the above, and have enjoyed the opportunity to devote a big block of quiet time to something.
posted by sueinnyc at 3:16 AM on November 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

I second the soup kitchen thing. A little get-your-hands-dirty volunteer work is always an excellent way to spend any holiday.
posted by blueshammer at 3:49 AM on November 22, 2006

A third on the soup kitchen idea. Service to others is the best pick-me-up I know.
posted by Malor at 3:55 AM on November 22, 2006

My wife's family is so dysfunctional they never get together for Thanksgiving. My family lives 1000 miles away and the only relative close to me is my twin brother, who goes to his wife's family.

So for 3 years stratight now, my wife and I have jumped in the car and headed down to Atlantic City. Free luxury hotel room and comedy club tickets from the Borgata and nothing but casinos half-full of bluehairs and Asians (most do not celebrate Thanksgiving).

Beats staying at home, that's for sure.
posted by camworld at 4:57 AM on November 22, 2006

Last year I had to be alone on the holiday and I just convinced myself it was going to be a great day. I was totally selfish and made everything be about me. I made myself a fabulous breakfast, lunch and dinner. I listened to loud music that I loved. I went for a jog in a beautiful part of the city. The city park was full of families actually so it was a nice way to be around people with no social demands. I read a book of short stories I'd been meaning to read for a while.

Do those things you'd like to do if you had the time elsewhere in your life. Be selfish (but it's not really selfish). Have a great day and night, whatever you decide to do. It's yours to enjoy.
posted by dog food sugar at 5:44 AM on November 22, 2006

I'm going to second sueinnyc's suggestion about performing a time consuming solitary project, but especially a very personal one like organizing a photo book as she mentions, or reading an old journal, or going over the notes for the novel that have been sitting under your bed for 5 years.

Being alone at this time of year can have a very strong poignancy factor.

Also the video marathon thing. I watched the entire Loud family documentary in sequence alone over a thanksgiving holiday and it was an experience I won't forget.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:00 AM on November 22, 2006

Seconding the mini-vacation idea (save the service-to-others for a day when service-to-others places aren't swamped with one-day do-gooders). One of the nicest things about quiet holidays is the quiet. Enjoy it. Take a leisurely walk or bike ride in a park you haven't been before, get done something around the house you've wanted to get done (but don't spend the whole day doing it!), watch an artsy video you've been meaning to watch, draw, take deep breaths, whatever.

With everything closed and everyone frantically traveling, it's a perfect chance to slow down and enjoy a simple, quiet, restful day by yourself. You know, the kind of day most of us would kill for during our normal daily grind.
posted by mediareport at 6:13 AM on November 22, 2006

Roadtrip! Saladpants and I once spent Christmas day driving around West Virginia. As long as you don't mind shitty chinese food, you should find empty roads and a good time.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:16 AM on November 22, 2006

- do a marathon viewing of a (whole) box set of a TV show that you want to get into (Lost? 24?) or that you remember fondly (for instance, I am super-excited to watch my new Alien Nation box set).

I did this one year with a bunch of Marx Brothers movies. I was in a crappy little apartment and totally on my own, but I had a marvelous time. Can't recommend it enough: there's something very festive about their films.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:18 AM on November 22, 2006

Seconding what people have said above - I'd vote to give the day to others through volunteering (also a great way to get out of your own head for a day, which keeps you from dwelling on the circumstances) or to give yourself a day of indulgence (catching up on shows/books you enjoy, making your favorite food, crossing off long-neglected stuff from your to-do list, manicure/pedicure/facial, just chillaxin', etc.).
posted by cadge at 6:33 AM on November 22, 2006

I often spend holidays alone or nearly alone and I find that it's one of the quietest times around, both in terms of traffic noise and the phone ringing to just getting email and the churn of the online world. Here are a few things I do to spend the time

- catch up. whatever that stupid proejct was that was SO low on the list I'll never get to it, I tackle it. This can be fixing small stuff, cleaning something I almost never use/look at, or cooking something that I bought the ingredientsfor that I've thought was to time consuming or too complicated
- catch up on email. if you're not going to do it now, you'll probably never do it, in which case DELETE that email
- go for a walk. again take advantage of the quiet, take a look at your neighborhood at a walking pace.
- communicate. everyone does this differently, but I sometimes sit down and write letters to people I am not in super good touch with. Real letters. People like getting mail, usually, especially non-bill mail and the reflective time you get being alone on a holiday is a good time for it.
- meet/greet. either by hanging out with new people in a service-oriented activity as people have said above, or meeting some new folks through some random MeFi, craigslist or other meetup activity. There may not be anything going on day of, but there is often something going on nearby.
- take care of yourself. work on whatever that personal improvement project was that you've been putting off, whether it's starting an exercise program, whitening your teeth or getting a new haircut, spend a little time on you.
- learn something. I often schedule little tech projects for holiday times, like learning how to mess with php, master bittorrent or do some sort of maintenance on my computer.
- explore. in your case, if you're in a new place, you can go check it out as a sort of amateur anthropologist. What is your new place like?

I view these times as a little slice of "no one expects you to do anything" timeand treat it like a free set of hours that aren't bound by the usual traditions and habits.
posted by jessamyn at 6:41 AM on November 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

My parents are in Florida from Nov-May so for about 10 years I have had most Thanksgivings, Christmas Days and Easters without a holiday meal, etc. Friends often offer but I normally refuse.
Prepare alittle bit.
Several I had nothing in the fridge and take out resturants were closed so that made it a bit depressing.
I often volunteered at a soup kitchen or delivering meals to shut ins. That was nice.
Or a great day to hit trails where I'm the only one hiking or riding.
Thanksgiving Day itself the roads are pretty quiet because everyone is hunkered down. Not a bad day to take a road trip and explore.
If you love animals you could call a shelter that is close and volunteer to walk or have play time with some of the dogs.
What ever you do I hope you have a good day.
posted by beccaj at 6:44 AM on November 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

My family has had three unexpected and untimely deaths in three years. Previously we had a virtually unbreakable Thanksgiving ritual that we just cannot do this year, partly because the traditional hostess is deceased. So instead of trying to go through the motions of tradition, we've abandoned it entirely. Various branches of the family are going to different places entirely, and we all agree that the change of scenery is the best possible thing to do at this point.
posted by scratch at 6:47 AM on November 22, 2006

This is a time to give thanks. Many people have much less than you do. Volunteer some time, and perhaps some money, to help some of these people and you will be surprised how well that will make you feel. At the very least, you will not be alone.
posted by caddis at 6:56 AM on November 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

Have a movie day. Go to the local multiplex and see a movie. Afterward, sneak into another one. And another. This is more fun with friends, but it will give you something interesting to tell your friends the next day.

You can volunteer at the soup kitchen in the evening.
posted by booth at 7:05 AM on November 22, 2006

Setting aside true-historical criticisms of the Thanksgiving myth. in my many Thanksgivings-in-lonely-disruption I have taken great succour from seeing the parallels between my situation and that of the 'Pilgrims'. I, too, have just moved and still have my stuff in boxes; two years ago it was the same, and I consider that the 1621 celebration of the first harvest was under similar circumstances: recently arrived in a new, unhomely place, far from the society that the settlers had known, they worked with what they had, and shared with the Wampanoag.

So I say, try to find yourself some 'Indians': anyone you know even a little, who will bring you to their dinner. My first year in college, my sister came to see me at Thanksgiving, and we found a lonely straggler in my dorm who was also not going home that week. Together we three had our quiet Thanksgiving, possibly our first thanksgiving where we were on our own, serving ourselves, cooking all our own food. In that case, I guess my sister and I were the Wampanoag, but we got as much from the exchange as the third person did.

Last year my fiancee was on the other coast for thanksgiving, leaving me and my mom as Pilgrims; we found Indians in some friends of mine and had a great punk thanksgiving at their place. Both of these stories have me with at least one family member, but in some ways what made them really special to me is the presence of strangers.

I like the myth of thanksgiving because it's about welcoming outsiders who are alone and adrift, about lonely strangers meeting up with some measure of conviviality, warming their souls before the hard winter ahead. Your profile says you're in PDX, but if you happen to have just moved to New York, you are welcome at my thanksgiving in Brooklyn: email in profile.

I've also had my most depressing Thanksgiving dinner in a diner on 6th Ave. in NYC, watching an old lady at the next table eating her mashed potatoes and turkey alone. This was when I was in high school, and I didn't have the outlook to invite her to our table, but today that's what I would want to do.

The flip side of finding Indians to take you in is to find Pilgrims to take in yourself; this is indeed probably best done through a soup kitchen.
posted by xueexueg at 7:21 AM on November 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

another vote for soup kitchen. the volunteers are usually as eccentric as the diners.
posted by mdpc98 at 7:40 AM on November 22, 2006

I hate to sound trite, but if you approach the day thinking it is going to suck then it totally will.

Do something that makes you happy. Me, I would eat a ton of my favorite foods, do some unpacking, and then people watch.

Try to find a way to take a few minutes and be thankful for the good things.
posted by KAS at 8:03 AM on November 22, 2006

Sounds like you need to borrow an old Jewish Christmas tradition. Find the best damn foreign restaurant you can afford — one that you know won't be serving turkey dinner, since that'll just be depressing; Chinese is, of course, traditional — and treat yourself to a feast. Then go out to the movies.

Or, hell, if it's catharsis you want, find yourself a shooting range. Follow with movies, Chinese food or good beer as needed.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:14 AM on November 22, 2006

Going to a soup kitchen on thanksgiving is a bad idea. The number of samaritans who are massaging their guilt outnumber the downtrodden by about 3:1. Nothing's more depressing than showing up to help and finding out that no one really needs you.

Three years ago, my wife and I found each other in a similar situation. (Unexpectedly on call at the last minute, unable to leave or make plans). We got the premade Thanksgiving from the grocery store, and watched the entire Star Wars trilogy on the TV with the cats in front of a fire. Best Thanksgiving ever. No travel hassle, no annoying in laws, no pressure to go out with friends who were busy with family, no chores to do, no shopping. The following two years, we intentionally set up our schedules to keep the tradition alive.

This year, all the relatives are with us at our house. Talk about a sucky Thanksgiving! I kid, I kid...
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:19 AM on November 22, 2006

We're from NYC area and we went to Jamaica during Thanksgiving w/e in 2004. It was like a double vacation: the normal break from the work routine and a break from the Thanksgiving/Xmas consumerathon.

If you want to know a great place that's not as expensive as Round Hill, we stayed near Montego Bay- at The Ritz Carlton, Rose Hall.
posted by wfc123 at 9:36 AM on November 22, 2006

Go visit some Cancer kids at the local children's hospital and give them toys. They have a worse-off day than you - they gotta go get Chemo today, which sucks.

Or buy/make their parents a good meal and bring it in.

Or go rent some vintage movies.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 9:45 AM on November 22, 2006

I'm not Jewish, but I usually go to a Chinese restaurant in the Chinatown-y part of town (here it's called the International District) on Xmas. It helps that I have another friend who doesn't do Xmas either, so we've been doing it together for years.

If you like bike riding and the climate permits, a long bike ride around your new town sounds like another good idea.

Another vote for a movie marathon, and another vote for helping those less fortunate, as well.
posted by matildaben at 10:29 AM on November 22, 2006

I agree with caddis. Thanksgiving is about gratitude. Spend the day learning how gratitude can make you a happier and healthier person. Positive psychology is a good place to start. Or for a quick and easy way to feel grateful there is always Youtube.
posted by calumet43 at 10:34 AM on November 22, 2006

One more for the "all about you/fiddly project" sort of day. Take a hot bath in the morning and drink mimosas while doing so. Or maybe bake a loaf of bread; most of the time is spent waiting for the bread to rise, so it's a good background project.
posted by Vervain at 10:37 AM on November 22, 2006

booth's idea is exactly what I did last year. Although I went back to box office and bought a ticket for each one.

I pored over the newspaper movie listings, and obsessively mapped out a schedule that would let me see as many of the best ones as possible over the entire weekend.

This is the greatest time of the year for movies. All the studios putting out their best stuff in time for the Oscar's.

I recommend getting out to the theatres and seeing all the recent releases over staying home with video rentals.
posted by marsha56 at 10:44 AM on November 22, 2006

Response by poster: Okay, I was specifically fishing for "this is what I've done in the past, it led to this and this and the day didn't turn out to be so crap after all" to avoid a lot of simple lectures about keeping true to the spirit of the holidays, etc. It's not a bad way to respond, it's just kind of obvious, right? Hence my remarks about the holiday not being tragic or anything... of course I know it could be worse and there are many many people worse off than me! Still, thanks for your answers.

As for me, I won't have the whole entire day to spend doing any one thing because as I alluded to I'm in the middle of a move. Also, I'm a freelancer which cuts down a bit on the holiday aspect... I may even wind up doing some work tomorrow! I had planned to take the Jewish holiday approach myself before posting this question.

Anyone else have Slarty Bartfast's 3:1 volunteer - downtrodden ratio experience doing the Thanksgiving good samaritan thing? That was interesting. I haven't ruled out the volunteering suggestions – but it might be kind of unwieldy for me to do with the move and all.
posted by furiousthought at 12:10 PM on November 22, 2006

This is actually a very good question as many people are in the same situation as you are. I suggest staying busy doing things that occupy chunks of time. I once spent a Thanksgiving and Christmas alone, out-of-town, knowing not a soul. I remember that Thanksgiving as being one of my best memories! I saw several movies, (each at a different theater) and finished the evening at a pub that had several people hanging out because they too were away from friends and family. It was different to be sure, but seeing all of the movies, eating out and meeting people in the same situation made it memorable.

posted by Gerard Sorme at 1:00 PM on November 22, 2006

I hope your Thanksgiving is as fun as Christmas was for the Waitresses in Christmas Wrapping.
posted by caddis at 1:32 PM on November 22, 2006

I did the soup kitchen thing one Thanksgiving, SB is right, they won't need you.
I went up to a yoga ashram/spa in the mountains on Thanksgiving and Christmas for several years specifically to avoid the hollidays, it was great. Yoga class, hiking, healthy food, massage.
If there is a zoo near you you might be able to spend the day there, ours is open 365 days a year. It's kind of peaceful to be there when there's not a big crowd.
posted by BoscosMom at 10:20 PM on November 22, 2006

Response by poster: It is possible for a Thanksgiving to be so miserable (on a superficial level – think nasty weather & washed-up entertainment options) that you wind up giggling about it halfway through and you don't stop until the day's almost done. I felt like Charlie Brown or Jimmy Corrigan or something, it was hilarious. That's pretty much how it went. In case anybody peeks at this later.
posted by furiousthought at 2:11 PM on November 26, 2006

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