Thanksgivings have often been spent at my older sister’s suburban Chicago home or my younger sister’s central Illinois house where she took care of our mother, who passed away this year. I shudder to think of the winter storms one of us was always driving through.
With senior family members gone and our kids doing their own things, we are having a sister reunion at my older sister’s fabulous second home in Arizona to do something a little different. This may be our new holiday tradition: the three sisters –we can cook (but we don’t have to) and hike in a canyon on Thanksgiving Day.
One thing we don’t have to do is accommodate the schedules of four grown children, and my four grandchildren, one of whom potentially shuttles between her mom’s and step-dad’s three families, my daughter-in-law’s family, and my divorced ex and me for holidays. Whew!
What can you do when your nest is either empty or so full you’d rather skip the whole family thing? Even if you haven’t got plans yet, there’s still time to make these arrangements. And remember, Thanksgiving is about sharing not only food but yourself.
For singles: Have a neighborhood potluck. You never have to be alone if you know your neighbors – and if you don’t, this might be a good time to get to know them. Have it outdoors if possible -- a great reason to live in South Florida, where my neighbors will gather in our courtyard (without me this year) and grill the turkey. If you live in a community with a clubhouse, reserve that. They often have kitchens where people can keep side dishes warm or cold. If you volunteer your home, everyone can contribute chairs and card tables. Someone will know how to and want to prepare the turkey. And everything else is gravy, as they say. This is a particularly good solution for singles.
For two—you and a friend, spouse, sibling: Go back to nature. One mild Thanksgiving Day my dad and I rode our bikes out into the country while mom slaved over the turkey and tended a sick child. It’s not the meal I remember, but the freedom of flying on my bike and the smell of leaves burning and the wind on my cheeks. Take a hike in the woods or nature preserve and picnic on deli turkey sandwiches.
For friends of a caregiver: Bring Thanksgiving dinner. The nicest thing you can do is recognize that a caregiver may want to spend Thanksgiving with their loved one, but not alone. When it isn’t feasible for someone to come to your table, offer to not only bring Thanksgiving dinner, but stay and share it. Both caregiver and patient will be delighted to have company but won’t have the stress of playing host. And you will enjoy having done something truly in the spirit of Thanksgiving.
For procrastinators: You can still make reservations. Last year a single friend and I couldn’t decide what to do or where to go til the last minute. I kept trolling the internet for restaurant suggestions, but the place to go was the newspaper, which had tons of ads for restaurants. We ended up at a restaurant at a beach club, which was perfect. We had time for a seashore walk and the choice of seafood for dinner. With both of us either newly or almost divorced, it was a nice diversion from our past family dinners.
When it’s just you: Stay in your pajamas, watch movies, read, Skype, and call friends and family. Remember times when you were so stressed by family and entertaining that you imagined being alone on a holiday would be the best thing in the world? It can be. Do what makes you happy, but reach out to friends and family with phone calls, video chat, or Skype. Forget about a big dinner. You can always get take out from a Chinese restaurant (what’s wrong with duck instead of turkey?).
Judy Kirkwood is looking forward to Thanksgiving in Tucson.