Are You Facing Thanksgiving Alone?

If you are facing Thanksgiving alone for the first time, you may be anticipating a lonely and depressing fourth Thursday of November. But it doesn’t have to be so. Whether you’re divorced, widowed or just can’t make it home for Thanksgiving, this family-centered holiday can be an opportunity for personal growth and expression.

Below are some tips and creative ways to manage and embrace what can be a challenging day in the life of those alone this time of year:

Be thankful. And why not start with yourself? Consider making a list of all the things you are thankful for this year: Your health? Your children? Those good friends who have stood by you through thick and thin? A career or volunteer job you love? A beloved pet? Or perhaps even this opportunity in your life to learn and grow?

Take the long view. While you may be alone this year, it doesn’t mean you’ll be dining solo on leftover stuffing the rest of your life. This one day doesn’t dictate your destiny. Who knows what the future holds? Over the next year, you may meet someone special or achieve a measure of inner peace and confidence that enables you to enjoy a holiday on your own or with a “family of friends.”

Do good. Helping others this time of year can take your mind off being alone and give you something worthwhile to do. Shelters and food kitchens often welcome volunteers, but — truth is — many of these agencies fill up fast with regular volunteers. You may need to plan ahead and be creative.

As an alternative, many local YMCAs host “turkey trot” races and need volunteers to register and cheer on runners of all ages. Instead of serving stuffing at the shelter, you could be serving up smiles at the finish line.

Throw your own little holiday dinner for fellow “strays” or “disconnected” persons. Have some fun! It doesn’t have to be elaborate or even planned far in advance. Sometimes last-minute dinner invitations can turn into the best, most memorable get-togethers.

Chances are you know others who may be alone this Thanksgiving. Extend a warm invitation and ask people to bring a holiday side dish to pass. This gives everyone a chance to make a meaningful (and delicious!) contribution.

Beware of “euphoric recall.” When you are feeling lonely, it can be easy to glorify the past. Did last year’s Thanksgiving live up to the Norman Rockwell ideal? Or did all the bickering, bad blood, and woozy, overstuffed relatives make you want to run for the hills? Maybe, just maybe, being with your own good company is a blessing.

Rent a movie and indulge in a tasty guilty pleasure. Oh, why not? Rent a favorite “feel good” film and make a night of it. You might check out “Tootsie” or “On Golden Pond,” two of my favorite oldies, which never fail to warm my heart. Or find a new movie you haven’t seen and enjoy the novelty of seeing something for the first time. Top it off with a favorite treat. I love pumpkin pie ice cream this time of year!

Pick up the phone. I’ve adaped one of Abe Lincoln’s famous lines for my own purposes: Most folks are as lonely as they make up their minds to be. The difference between isolation and engagement can be as simple as dialing a seven-digit phone number.

My experience happily tells me that most folks welcome a call on Thanksgiving. An invitation to go for a walk or see a matinee while the turkey is in the oven is often seen as a nice diversion and chance to get out of the house. Others just love opening their homes, inviting friends in, and expanding the celebration. It can be a beautiful thing for everyone.

Decorate your home inside and out. Do it for you. It may help put you in the spirit of the holiday. This past weekend, I recreated my annual stacked-pumpkin display for my front porch. It gives me a warm feeling every time I pull up to the house. Create harvest accents for your home and feel the essence of Thanksgiving in your heart.

Nurture yourself. On your own, Thanksgiving can be a great day to do whatever you enjoy doing. Treat yourself to well-deserved time to yourself to read, luxuriate in a warm bath, nap or take a nice walk to enjoy nature. Pamper yourself for at least 30 minutes and take a mini-vacation from your worries, doubts, and fears.

Write “thank you” notes. Now here’s an idea that’s so obvious it often gets overlooked on Thanksgiving. “Build bridges the rest of the year, and cross them during the holidays,” said Craig Ellison, PhD, author of “Saying Goodbye to Loneliness and Finding Intimacy.” If you can’t be with friends or family this holiday, pick up a pen and thank them for their support and friendship.

Who wouldn’t love to receive a card on the day after Thanksgiving that begins, “I’m sitting here on Thanksgiving morning thinking of you. On this day of thanks, I can’t help but be thankful for our (fill in the blank).” In preparation for this kind gesture, purchase cards and stamps in advance.

So there you have it: Survival tips for a single-serving Turkey Day. The good news? It will be Friday before you know it and you can be thankful you got out of bed, rose to the occasion, and enjoyed your Thanksgiving.

Gwenn Voelckers is the founder and facilitator of Live Alone and Thrive, empowerment workshops for women held throughout the year in Mendon, New York. For information about her workshops or to invite her to speak, call 585-624-7887, or email