Thanksgiving often evokes images of crowding around a table with loved ones while we clink glasses and indulge in delicious plates of food, but the past year and a half have taught us that it’s not necessarily always possible to be with the ones we care about most. Perhaps this year, you’re opting to have a quiet solo Thanksgiving at home sans any travel, or the ongoing pandemic has shuttered plans of being able to celebrate with family and friends. “It can be challenging to spend a holiday alone — we may grieve not having a holiday similar to what we’ve had in the past and may be grieving the holiday we hoped we would have presently,” says Kimberly Schaffer, MSW, LCSW, CSSW, CCS, clinical director and practice owner of Attentive Psychotherapy.
No matter the circumstances, it’s still possible to make the holiday memorable. An overall helpful approach from Asasia Richardson, LMSW therapist at A Good Place Therapy, is to reframe the meaning of the day. “You get to decide what Thanksgiving means to you, which also means you can shift its significance and plan for how you want to spend the day and what you want it to look like,” she shares. On that note, we’ve got you covered with some great recommendations that may even become the start of a new tradition.
Navigating feelings of loneliness
As we mentioned above, even if you choose to spend the holiday alone, feelings of loneliness or sadness may arise. “Spending a holiday alone, even if by choice, can bring up a lot of emotions that you may not be expecting — allow yourself to acknowledge and sit with those feelings, but make it a point to also create new memories,” shares Morgan Goulet, a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in California, who adds that just because you are on your own doesn’t mean your holiday has to be lonely. What do you enjoy and want to spend your time doing? “Maybe you don’t like traditional Thanksgiving food, so you decide to make a completely different meal for yourself — do whatever feels right for you.”
Since gratitude is certainly a central theme of this holiday, now’s a great time to practice it. “Gratitude can be both a shared and solo experience — often we associate it with profound appreciation and connection with others in our environment and daily life, but it can also be an experience that you cultivate within,” shares Meghan Watson, a resident therapist at Alkeme Health and founder of Bloom Psychology & Wellness. She continues to explain that inner gratitude can be explored through various exercises, such as journaling about the important lessons you’ve learned in the past year or reflecting on the challenges and growth you’ve supported yourself through recently. Of course, infusing gratitude into a meditation or mindfulness practice is another worthy way to count our blessings.
Another rewarding way to spend your time this Thanksgiving is to volunteer for a charity or event that you find meaningful. “By performing random acts of kindness, we often feel as though we have impacted others and simultaneously feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment,” says Dr. Renee Exelbert, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist based in New York. It’s not as though you need a reason to volunteer, but research has shown that there’s a wide array of beneficial effects that can arise from participating in voluntary services, from an increase in life satisfaction to better mental and physical health.
Set a festive place setting
Just because you may be dining solo doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a beautiful and festive place setting to enjoy. Kate Whelan, owner and lead consultant of Kate Whelan Events, says to pull out the good china, stemware, and flatware — but just one of each — and make yourself a pretty place card. “If you’re bored with what you have at home, you can rent gorgeous themed tablescapes from places like Social Studies or Table + Teaspoon,” she recommends. “Most will require a minimum of four place settings, but if your guest count is less, you could treat yourself to multiple fancy dinners at home!” The bonus? Less dishes to tackle post-meal.
Create some ambiance
Take time to set a comfortable but elevated area for yourself. “The easiest ways to make a room feel transformed consist of lighting, living plants, and sound,” says Megan Papageorge, CEO of Sweet Peach Planning, who adds that for lighting, you can pull out those old candles you have lying around and dim the overhead ones. When it comes to incorporating living plants, some of her ideas include gathering all the house plants into a more concentrated area, bringing your porch plants inside for the night, or perhaps getting some fresh-cut florals to brighten the vibe. “Sound is the easiest and possibly most important way to transform the space — fight the urge to have random TV blaring or the dryer running, instead put on some nostalgic music or a movie that really speaks to you.”
Invite a friend to a family member to “join”
If you’d prefer to have a bit of conversation while digging into your delicious meal, Seri Kertzner, chief party officer of Little Miss Party Planner, says why not tap into all that technology has to offer and invite a close family member or friend to “join” via FaceTime or phone? “Plan to have dinner at the same time and chat your way through it by sharing your favorite Thanksgiving memories and what you’re most thankful for,” she adds.
Similarly, Whelan suggests you could also organize an hour-long virtual happy hour where everyone grabs their favorite wine, beer, or sparkling cider and chats a bit about what they’ve been up to and what they’re grateful for after what has been a challenging time for many.
Dress to impress
Wear what speaks to you. “Style is about feeling good in your own skin, even if you’re the only one that will see it,” Papageorge notes. “Dress up in your favorite matching pajama set with fluffy matching slippers or go all out with an old bridesmaid dress just sitting in the closet. Go through that old trunk with grandma’s velvet-lined gloves and take the extra twenty minutes you never have to apply the perfect winged eyeliner.” She adds that whatever you choose to wear, it’s not about the actual outfit or being dressed up; it’s about adorning yourself in clothing and accessories that make you feel special.
Head out for a walk or hike
How about getting out for a bit of fresh air? Dr. Exelbert shares that popping outside can be good for the soul plenty of studies have revealed that lacing up and heading out for a walk can immediately shift our moods to the positive. “Actively notice everything around you, engage your five senses and be fully present,” she tells Sunday Edit. “Notice the color of the trees, the smell of the air, the temperature of the wind, and the sounds of the birds — be grateful for the beauty that is bestowed upon you.”
Try or rediscover a new hobby
Have you wanted to try out a new hobby or have a project that’s been in the back of your mind? Watson mentions that whether it’s knitting, painting, cooking, or candle-making, a new type of creative activity is a gratifying way to keep your hands busy (and makes for an entertaining distraction).
Indulge in self-care
Finally, embrace self-care, whether that comes in the form of your most luxurious pajamas, DIY mani-pedi, delightful movie marathon, or whatever speaks to your soul, suggests Whelan. And don’t forget to pamper that beautiful face! We’ve got you covered, from serums to scalp care. Enjoy!
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