How to Celebrate When You Can’t Go Home for Thanksgiving

updated Jul 18, 2020
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(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

Thanksgiving is a time when many people head back to their hometowns or travel to see their families and old friends, but that’s not always an option for everyone. Of course, some people enjoy spending the holidays alone. And, some others don’t like celebrating altogether for myriad reasons, but if you do and you find yourself without any plans for Thanksgiving, it can feel like a real challenge and it can get lonely.

If you’re looking for ways to spend Thanksgiving Day this year, try one of these options—whether you spend the holiday with friends, giving back, or creating a new solo-tradition is up to you.

Host (or go to) Friendsgiving

You know that saying about not getting to choose your family, but being able to pick your friends? Sometimes spending Thanksgiving with your friends is just as (if not more) comforting as spending it with family. If you haven’t already been invited to a Thanksgiving dinner by a friend, find out which of your friends will be around on Thanksgiving day without plans, and offer to host a Friendsgiving potluck celebration, where everyone can bring their favorite dishes. You still get to spend the day with people you love and care about, even if they’re not actually related to you… and you still get to enjoy all the foods you love.

Spend the Day Volunteering

There are plenty of ways you can spend your holiday helping others, and it’s a great option if you can’t spend your day with family—just make sure you plan this in advance, since many organizations get an influx of volunteers on Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season. You can volunteer at a shelter or a kitchen to help prepare and give out food, or find another charity that can use your help. And of course, there are other ways you can spend the day giving back if you haven’t planned it in advance—think about going through your closet and finding coats, clothes and other items you no longer use to donate to a coat drive or a nearby organization like Goodwill, or go through your pantry and find food to donate.

Have an Anti-Thanksgiving Dinner

If you run out of options, you could still make some of your favorite Thanksgiving dishes for yourself (and you don’t even have to share the stuffing!). But if celebrating alone just doesn’t feel right to you, try cooking yourself a fancy dinner that’s the total opposite of what you usually eat for Thanksgiving. You can make it challenging and attempt cooking something you’ve never made—or never had—before. It’ll still feel like you’re doing something special because you’re putting in the effort, but it’ll be its own unique thing (potentially even a new tradition.) Or, if cooking isn’t your thing, treat yourself to your favorite takeout.

Other ways to spend the day:

  • Go to a local parade (especially if you live in New York!)
  • Watch a holiday movie marathon
  • Bake your favorite pie… and try to make it Instagram-worthy
  • Get a head-start on holiday decorating
  • Take advantage of early Black Friday sales to start holiday shopping

If you’re not heading home for the holiday, how do you plan to celebrate Thanksgiving this year?