By Gwenn Voelckers
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. Plus some fun, too!
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? 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 now to experiment and learn new things about yourself?
• Take the long view — While you may be alone this year, it doesn’t mean you’ll be dining solo on leftover turkey 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 and be creative.
As an alternative, many local YMCAs host Turkey Trots 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 “untethered” friends — Have some fun! It doesn’t need 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 invite your guests to bring along a beverage or 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 everything pumpkin this time of year: pumpkin soup, pie, ice cream and fry cakes!
• Pick up the phone — I’ve modified one of Abe Lincoln’s famous quotes for my own purposes: “Folks are usually about as lonely as they make up their minds to be.” The difference between isolation and engagement can be as simple as sending a text or dialing a seven-digit phone number.
My experience happily tells me that most folks welcome a call on Thanksgiving. Why not pick up the phone to connect with out-of-town friends and family members? Catch up and make their day, as well as yours, a little richer.
Or connect locally with a neighbor or friend with an invitation to go for a walk around the block or see a matinee while the turkey is in the oven. Many folks welcome the diversion and chance to get out of the kitchen before or after the big feast.
• 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.
Add harvest accents to 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. Carve out well-deserved time to read, do some early online shopping for the holidays, give yourself a manicure or whatever tickles your fancy.
On Thanksgiving Day, I plan to nurture myself with a solo walk in the woods, where I find peace and feel connected to all living things: trees, birds, critters and insects — even creatures I can’t see within the ponds, underground and in the sky.
I never feel alone when I’m in nature and use the time alone to count my blessings and be grateful.
So pamper yourself for at least 30 minutes and take a mini-vacation from your worries, doubts and fears. Then seize the day with a renewed outlook on life.
• 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 hand-written card 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.
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 look back and be proud of yourself for rising to the occasion and treating yourself to big helping of joy and gratitude this Thanksgiving.
Gwenn Voelckers is the founder and facilitator of Alone and Content, empowerment workshops for women and author of “Alone and Content,” a collection of inspiring essays for those who live alone. For information about her workshops, to purchase her book, or invite her to speak, visit www.aloneandcontent.com