If we learned anything from watching Friends, it is that Chandler Bing hates Thanksgiving. I remember watching that episode for the first time and being able to totally relate.
I have a long and complicated history with Thanksgiving. As a child, I would eat turkey and mashed potatoes just like everyone else, but as I grew older I started to have a more tenuous relationship with the holiday.
It all started when I was 21 years old. I was living in Minnesota and attending graduate school. It was my first time living away from home, and I had left behind my first serious boyfriend who I had met the summer before I started school. It was 1994, so there were no cell phones. We couldn’t text or email each other, and long distance calls were expensive. I was so lonely.
When he came to see me a few weeks into the semester, my 26-year-old boyfriend proposed. It came as a huge shock, but I blurted out “Yes!” before even thinking about it. Needless to say, my mother was not pleased about my engagement. She told me that I was too young to get married. And she hounded me to break it off, which I eventually did when I was back home over Thanksgiving weekend.
For years, I regretted that decision. And every Thanksgiving I would think about my ex-boyfriend and wonder how my life might have turned out if I hadn’t broken things off so abruptly. I resented my mother for forcing me to break off my engagement. And I resented Thanksgiving.
Of course, in the end it was the right decision. But I agonized over it for years because I never felt like it was truly my decision. Thanks to the internet and social media, I was eventually able to connect with my ex-boyfriend and make peace with what happened. And years later, I was lucky enough to find the man that I was meant to spend my life with.
Even though my situation has changed, somehow my aversion to Thanksgiving has remained. In fact, it has taken on a life of its own. Thanksgiving has become a representation of the many excesses that exist our society.
While the food is delicious, it makes me sad that so many turkeys are sacrificed for our Thanksgiving meals. And football, while it is the great American passtime, is also a violent form of entertainment. I am especially bummed out by the stores that decide to open on Thanksgiving Day instead of letting their associates enjoy time with their families.
And yet, Thanksgiving comes every year. And my family expects that I will spend the holiday with them, whether I want to or not. As much as I love my family, every year I fantasize about ways to skip out on Thanksgiving altogether.
If you are like me, and you would rather be anywhere than at your Thanksgiving celebration, here are a few ways I have learned to survive Thanksgiving.
Mix Things Up a Little
My family is all about tradition. We literally have had the same Thanksgiving meal for the past 30 years. Try to add some interest by bringing a new dish you haven’t tried before, or taking an after dinner walk and listening to the leaves crunch under your feet.
Find One Tradition You Enjoy
Even if you are not a huge fan of Thanksgiving, try to find one thing that you can appreciate. For me, it is watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. I do it every year and it still makes me smile.
Make a Connection
If your Thanksgiving family celebration is large, it is easy to feel disconnected as you wander from room to room. Try to take a moment and make a genuine connection with someone you care about. Have an intimate conversation and really find out how the other person is doing.
Focus on Gratitude
Thanksgiving can sometimes feel like a whirlwind of cooking, cleaning and eating way too much! Even though I don’t love Thanksgiving, I do love my family. And I love my life. Taking a moment to be grateful can put things in perspective.
Take a Year Off
My Dad passed away last year. And when Thanksgiving came around all I wanted to do was stay home and watch Hallmark movies in my pajamas. I had it all planned out, but my Mom pressured me to come to the family party and eventually I gave in. Of all the years to skip Thanksgiving and take care of myself, that was the year I needed it the most. I wish I would have just stayed home. (Maybe I should stop listening to my Mom, at least when it comes to Thanksgiving!)
Whatever you need to do to survive Thanksgiving this year, give yourself permission to do it. Your future self will be thankful that you did.