When you can’t go home for the holidays

You know how the song goes: “Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays…”

It’s true. Nothing beats Mom’s mashed potatoes, Dad’s turkey, and all the family traditions we grow up looking forward to all year. Every year as we get older and gain more and more independence, there is something comforting about returning to the family “home base” – your parents’ or grandparents’ house where everyone flocks come Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.

But sometimes you’re far away and things don’t exactly work out like that.

This year will be the first Thanksgiving I can remember I won’t be with at least some variation of my family or extended family. Normally my family keeps Thanksgiving pretty low-key, especially once my siblings and I started moving out, getting married, and having kids, though we still always do a fair amount of eating and cuddling. But since my husband and I just made a huge move to NYC, and we’re saving up to fly to visit his family at Christmas, we aren’t going to be able to spend Thanksgiving with my folks like we usually do.

So what do you do when you’re stuck at college, or on the other side of the country, or dirt poor, and you just can’t make it home for the holidays? Chin up, kids! Though the situation may provoke a few tears, or even panic at first, there’s always a silver lining to this adventure called adulthood.

1. Think of it as another notch on your “adulting” belt.

Remember when you could barely cook instant macaroni? But now you’re totally a pro, and have even graduated to making regular macaroni? That journey helped you learned something about yourself! And now you have a great skill. Flying solo on the holidays can be kinda like that. When distance keeps you from participating in family rituals, you get to learn emotional independence, coping skills, and how to make your own kind of music in a new way.

2. Start creating your own traditions.

Think about it: those family pictures with Santa or that annual pumpkin pie may seem like a “forever” tradition to you, but at some point, somebody just said “hey, let’s do this thing.” And bam: tradition in the making. You don’t have to wait until you’re married, a parent, or a grandparent to create cool traditions. Start them now! The sky’s the limit. Try a batch of cool seasonal pancakes. Attend that Thanksgiving parade. Get funky with that apple cider recipe. Do a movie marathon. Something might be awesome enough to make you think, “huh, I should do this again next year.” Before you know it, you’ll be doing it with your own kids and you won’t be able to remember when it started!

3. Celebrate with the people who ARE around you.

You may not be around your parents, siblings, cousins, or whoever consists of the normal crew. But chances are you’ve got a few good folks around you! Take stock.

For example, this year we found out that my husband’s grandpa and step-grandmother always travel to NYC to spend Thanksgiving with her family. When we told them we would be moving up there, they invited us to spend the day with them! It’s definitely different than what we’re used to, especially since we won’t know most of the people, but we’re excited to see his grandparents and have a new experience.

Maybe you’re on campus with just a few other kids. Have a Friendsgiving! Maybe you know of a few co-workers who are “orphaned” this year as well. Invite them over, or go out to dinner the night before, or just commiserate together and talk about your families over drinks. Celebrations can look like anything. What’s important is sharing the love with the humans who are nearby.

4. Do something once-in-a-lifetime or wacky

Maybe this being-by-yourself-for-the-holidays thing is a once in a lifetime deal. Maybe you’re studying abroad, or working on a special project, or something that will just affect this one year. All the more reason to explore and do something totally fun! Go to the beach in the snow, wear a costume all day, play Apples to Apples all night long. Go hiking or camping or something else you’d normally never do on a holiday. Who knows? Maybe you’ll have an absolute blast. And all your friends can stalk your selfies and wonder what on earth you were doing on Thanksgiving while they were doing the normal pumpkin pie thing.

5. There’s always Skype

Whether you cook yourself a turkey or order pizza and watch Netflix, make sure to send your love to the folks back home. Catching up over the phone or on Skype is one of the simplest, most beautiful luxuries of living in the modern era. Wires and signals can connect us instantly to those we love most in the world. How amazing is that? That way, no matter what you’re up to, you can still share smiles and laughter.

And if you’ve got that, what can’t you make it through?

(Image via IFC/United Artists)

Debbie Holloway
Debbie Holloway lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works closely with Narrative Muse, a fast-growing source for movies, TV, and books created by and about women and gender diverse folks. Read more
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