How a Decade of Thanksgivings Away From Home Taught Me to Embrace New Traditions

I used to hate this about living far from family, but now I love it...
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Jonah's and my turkey, from last year's Thanksgiving

Jonah's and my turkey, from last year's Thanksgiving

The moment I decided to attend a college three thousand miles from home, I inherently knew that it would be a long time before my next Thanksgiving with family. In the past ten years, I've only returned home to Reno once for the holiday. It's not that I'm actively trying to avoid my family (not this time at least 😬😉) but, like a lot of people who live far from theirs, I can rarely justify the cost, hassle, or impact of visiting them just a month before we gather at Christmas. Over the past ten years, I've spent Thanksgiving with friends of the family, families of friends, solo, and, on one occasion, with a family I'd never met before—all of which, I've learned to embrace. These experiences have lended themselves mostly to happy memories and, if nothing else, a lot of stories. Families can't help but act like themselves on holidays—all of their dynamics and quirks are on display, even to a guest. And spending Thanksgiving alone, or with friends? Even better.

My freshman year, I spent Thanksgiving with family friends I'd only met for the first time a few months prior, when my parents dropped me off at school. I learned the hard way that year that I can't combine Champagne with shellfish. And when I say "the hard way," I mean I vomited on an author who's well-known enough that I would be surprised if you haven't read at least one of her books. Rough start, but from there things only got better (they had to, right?). The following years sent me on a turkey trot around the east coast, to New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York City, where I spent the weekend with a family I didn't know at all, but fell in love with over the course of the Macy's Day Parade. I loved the intimacy of getting to know the families who graciously opened their homes to me, until I finally decided to go a different route.

The last year I spent Thanksgiving with another family was five years ago. It was Jonah's and my first year out of college and when our then-roommate, who we weren't particularly close with, graciously invited us to stay the entire weekend in her family home in Long Island, we accepted. I packed accordingly, arriving with a weekender bag. After dinner, as we all sat in the living room, nursing our food comas with wine, our roommate said, "How does the eleven o'clock train sound?" I agreed that it sounded like a totally reasonable time to leave. Leaving at eleven o'clock on Sunday morning would get us to New York City around two in the afternoon, with plenty of time for us to prep for our weeks. 

About a half-hour later, at 10:30 PM, she said, "Well, we should get going so you guys can catch your train!" Jonah and I shared a glance that instantly communicated, "OH, she meant eleven PM, as in right now??" We boarded the train, without her mentioning our overnight bags, and arrived in New York at two in the morning. Jonah and I spent the entire train ride retracing our steps—she had explicitly mentioned that we should spend the weekend and we'd had a lovely dinner—what signs had we miss?? She never addressed it, so we didn't either. 

The next year we decided to adopt a new strategy: We declined all invitations and created a decadent menu for just the two of us. We splurged on cheese from our favorite shop in New York, made Negronis, bought fancy Champagne for dinner, and prepared Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon early so it could spend the entire day simmering over low heat as we played board games. It was bliss

Ever since that Thanksgiving, Jonah and I have spent the holiday alone, with just one exception. And even though it's just two of us, the day feels just as special. There's something undeniably luxurious about "opting out" of a holiday (if your family and familial obligations allow for it, of course!). You don't have to dress up, can make and eat exactly what you want, and the farthest you have to travel is from your couch to your bar cart to the stove.

What began as one of my least favorite parts of moving away from home—missing time with family around the holidays—is now one of my favorite things. Instead of seeing the space between us on Thanksgiving as a negative, I now see it as an opportunity to celebrate the holiday in our own way, whether that means a dry-brined turkey or an entire dinner of cheese and crackers (looking at you, 2016). 

This year, we're expanding our twosome into a foursome, with a Friendsgiving at our friends' apartment. The plan is to arrive with coffee, then spend the entire day making turkey, playing games, and sleeping over—except this time, we've triple-checked: We're leaving at 10:30 AM (not PM). 

All smiles, a very dirty stove (it was working hard that day!), and no makeup for Thanksgiving last year

All smiles, a very dirty stove (it was working hard that day!), and no makeup for Thanksgiving last year

I'd love to hear - do you spend Thanksgiving away from home? How have you made the holiday into your own?