Thanksgiving for One



Today I spent Thanksgiving alone.

Now, hold on a minute…  Before you start getting all “what a pity!” on me, rest assured that’s exactly what I wanted this year, and what I’ve been looking forward to all week.

When I was younger and my grandparents were still alive, we of course we had the Grand Thanksgiving of Thousands, with aunts and uncles and cousins galore traveling from the far reaches of the continent to squish elbow-to-elbow along a makeshift banquet table in the attic, the only room in the house that could hold us all. The unspoken pre-dinner rule was that you visited the facilities before you sat down, because – short of diving under the table and crawling through everyone’s feet – there was no possible way you were getting up from the table again for a few hours.  We passed dish after traditional dish along the line of waiting family members, everyone spooning their share and moving the plate or bowl on in some kind of weirdly orchestrated food ballet.  It was holiday gluttony at its beautiful best. After the turkey was picked clean and the pumpkin pie was sliced and served, the adults would stay upstairs chatting over after-dinner cocktails while us kids marauded around like wildlings until we succumbed to the inevitable food coma downstairs in the living room while watching The Wizard of Oz.

But time passes and traditions change. The family elders that beckoned us together every year passed, and everyone traditionally in attendance started staying closer to home for their own family observances of the holiday.  Being an only child, our continuing tradition at home was of course small, but still fun as I remember it.  And as the years continued to march on our small family “traditional” Thanksgiving changed again and again – my mom passed away, my dad remarried and moved to Pittsburgh, I had my son and then split with his father. We went through lots of holiday permutations during those years, with various locations and levels of participation. These days Thanksgiving has morphed for us into a small every-other-year affair when my son is with me for the holiday, with my dad and his wife driving down from Pennsylvania and occasionally my step-sister and her family as well.

This year my son is with his dad for Thanksgiving, and they’ll be hosting Grandmom and aunts and uncles and cousins somewhat like we did in the old days – and I’m glad that he’ll have the opportunity to experience something akin to the “big Thanksgiving” that I remember from my childhood, as well as get some quality time in with his extended family on the other side. At this age I think it’s good for him to have a good grounding in the equal joys and tortures of being with lots of relatives you don’t see very often.


And me? My idea of Thanksgiving has become a bit more malleable.   

Our “Big Thanksgiving” these days is courtesy of one of my friends I’ve known since kindergarten.  As a nurse who is contractually obligated to work most major holidays, she hosts “Friendsgiving” every year on the Wednesday before – a huge mishmash of family, school friends, neighbors and co-workers. And since it’s not “real” Thanksgiving everyone is available to show up!  Just like a traditional family Thanksgiving, everyone brings a dish, the kids run amok all over the house, and everyone pitches in to help clean up at the end of the night. It’s fantastic to catch up with so many new and old friends at her house every year, and I’ve almost come to think of that as our “real” Thanksgiving.  And, after an evening of mayhem and laughter and tons of good food at her house, skipping the traditional Thursday event is really not that big of a deal for me.

Of course when my other friends found out I was spending the actual holiday on my own, they were completely appalled.  “You can’t spend Thanksgiving alone! You should come with me to my [insert relative/friend/significant other here]’s house!”

Thank you for the wonderfully kind invite.  But no, thank you.


Really. I’m completely serious. No.

Despite everyone else’s misgivings, today has been wonderful! This morning G and I made pancakes together before shuttling him down to his dad’s, and then I came home, kicked on some music and started my own “fun” cooking.  No pressure of hungry hordes to feed; just playing in the kitchen because I felt like it. My turkey remained rock-solid in the freezer while I made a giant vat of pasta sauce to freeze for future dinners, along with a kick-ass lasagna that I ate two helpings of while I wrote this.  I also baked some mini blueberry cheesecakes that I’ll tuck into shortly.  (See? Just because you’re alone for Thanksgiving doesn’t mean you have to give up the glorious sport of ritualized American gluttony.)  And while everything was cooking this afternoon I sat down with a big fuzzy blanket and a glass of wine and tore through a really good book, an indulgence I haven’t afforded myself in AGES.

Today is traditionally a day of giving thanks, and I certainly have plenty to be thankful for – a son who continually amazes me and makes me proud, a handful of fantastic friends who have stood the test of time, and a fulfilling career that keeps me equally entertained and gainfully employed.

But today in particular, I’m especially thankful to have a quietly indulgent day to myself.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Colleen Clifford

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