How to Celebrate Thanksgiving without Your Family
As a military spouse, Thanksgiving can be particularly difficult. With parents living over 10 hours away and six children in tow, travel is rarely an option for holidays. In the days of social media, seeing everyone’s pictures and videos of time with family can make the holidays more painful. Perhaps you aren’t military family, but you have found yourself far away from home as well. Family disagreements, distance, disability, lack of close friendships, being an empty nester, or lack of funds are a few reasons many find themselves isolated on major holidays with no plans.
Can you relate to any of these things? If you know that you won’t be near family for Thanksgiving, for whatever reason, you don’t have to spend the day alone and disappointed. Here are 6 ways you can enjoy Thanksgiving Day and future holiday occasions when you don’t have plans or family to celebrate with.
1. Open Your Home
Years ago, we found ourselves with no way to travel for Thanksgiving. We are a big family, so I chose to make a big dinner so my children could feel loved. Just a few hours before we started to eat, a friend messaged me: Can we come over for Thanksgiving? We have nowhere to go. Although I had never hosted Thanksgiving dinner, I instantly invited two more families. Would you be surprised to hear that this was one of my favorite holidays to date?
Offering hospitality is not just a good idea, it’s God’s idea. When we think of the early church, it was centered around coming together within a home. Your home doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be a place where people can feel loved and accepted. When you open your home to other people, you allow others to find a new sense of family within your home!
Over and over, we see that hospitality is something so valued by God, he even says that when we take care of someone else, it’s like we are taking care of him! So, if you have no family nearby, grab a turkey and invite over a few friends who may also be in need of family.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. -Hebrews 13:2
Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.- 1 Peter 4:9
2. Attend a “Friendsgiving”
Recently, leaders at our church suggested hosting a Friendsgiving for the congregation. Friendsgiving, I learned, happens when friends come together and decide to be family with one another. It’s the typical Thanksgiving but with others whom we are hoping to know better.
Have you been invited to this kind of holiday meal? Whether the inviters call it Friendsgiving or invite you into their family celebration, pray about attending. To be honest, it can be easy to decline invites to such events. Celebrating Thanksgiving with other families and feeling like an “outsider” can be dauting. However, I have found God will use those we don’t know to be a huge blessing to us, if we allow Him. Breaking out of your comfort zone to try something new can be a great distraction from being away from loved ones. Make the event extra special by bringing a dish that’s unique to your family.
3. Help Feed Others
One way we can be a blessing is to serve others. Choosing a local shelter to partner with can be very rewarding for everyone involved. This activity can even be done in a group. In fact, it’s been found that one way to get to know a person and grow closer is to volunteer together.
Additionally, volunteering to help feed others in need reminds us to keep things in perspective. Though we may be frustrated about not having a “perfect” holiday with family, there are others who are simply thankful for a meal. This act of being intentional about others remind us of God’s grace towards us. Those who live at a shelter or are homeless may be yearning to feel like a part of a family. What a blessing to serve and seek to make another feel accepted for a day! In a world that’s so full of rejection, you can use this Thanksgiving as way to show God’s love in action. If you are unsure where to start to find a place to bless, visit this linkto find local food banks in your area.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…- Matthew 25:35
4. Visit a Nursing Home
Nursing home ministry is one that is often neglected. When our elders are unable to communicate effectively or take care of themselves, they often find themselves living the last years of their lives alone. In fact, according to the National Institute on Aging, many even become victims of physical, mental and emotional abuse. Though we may not be able to solve this crisis, we can make a choice to be more intentional about those of the older generation. For those who are estranged from family, one great idea is to visit and bless a local nursing home.
From playing music to bringing games or having dinner with those who live at the homes, you can be a blessing to those who may also be far from family. Even making a choice to go and just have a conversation can spark a new relationship and perspective on life. As a professor of Developmental Psychology, I’ve learned that simply affirming that an older person has value and are worthy to be loved, you can help improve their quality and length of life. Though we may not be able to directly influence the care of our elders daily, we never know how special we can make this Thanksgiving by simply showing up with a warm heart and listening ears.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.- Psalm 71:9
Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.- 1 Timothy 5:1-2
5. Create a New Tradition
If it’s apparent you won’t be with family for Thanksgivings to come, a great idea is to create your own tradition. Perhaps taking yourself to a movie or out to your favorite restaurant for dinner can become special for you. As your immediate family grows, this tradition can be one that is passed down. Sometimes these small investments in ourselves can be even more refreshing than being trapped by a specific tradition! Its more than ok to try something new and to have a day that focuses on what you enjoy!
If you are estranged from family, prayer is needed. Whether distance has caused the separation or a family dispute, don’t wait to pray. When we pray, we’re asking God to move and bring forth change in our lives. Here are a few areas we can pray about as seek the Lord.
- Reconciliation amongst family members
- Finances to plan visits
- Healing from the pain of separation
- Creative ideas to be with family virtually or in person
- Friends that become family
- The ability to forgive
Remember, when you pray, God is listening and working on your behalf. Truly, you never know how he can completely transform your situation, if you are willing to ask and do what he instructs. Rather than become content with isolation, ask the Lord for a strategy on how you can come together with your family and others he’s placed in your life during this holiday season.
Victoria Riollano is an author, blogger, and speaker. As a mother of six, military spouse, Psychology professor and minister’s wife, Victoria has learned the art of balancing family and accomplishing God’s ultimate purpose for her life. Recently, Victoria released her book, The Victory Walk: A 21 Day Devotional on Living A Victorious Life. Her ultimate desire is to empower women to live a life of victory, hope, and love. She believes that with Christ we can live a life that is ALWAYS winning. You can learn more about her ministry at victoryspeaks.org.