How to celebrate Thanksgiving alone and actually enjoy it

The holidays will feel different this year. Try these four expert tips for making the most of the season.

Amanda Capritto
4 min read
A costumed santa holding out a disposable surgical mask

COVID-19 is going to shake up your holiday plans.

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I, like many other people this year, will not be traveling to see my family for the holidays. This is the first year of my entire life that I won't visit my family for either Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's Eve. And it stings. It feels weird and sad, and it hasn't even happened yet. 

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made happiness more elusive than ever (an impressive feat in a world where so many already struggle with emotional health) and the inability to see loved ones for the holidays feels like a punch in the gut. Grappling with loneliness is never fun, and feeling lonely during the holidays sparks a special kind of sadness.

It doesn't have to be all bad, though. You can still make the most of the holiday season with the following tips. I know I'll be trying them on upcoming special days. 

Make use of technology to the fullest extent


While a video call is no substitute for an in-person gathering, it can help you feel more connected to loved ones.

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You're probably tired of FaceTime and Zoom calls as much as everyone else, but video chatting is truly the best remote option we have for connecting with family members during the holidays this year. 

"It won't replace in-person visits, but video calls or social media chats are ways to feel close to loved ones and you can have conversations in real time," says Nicole Beurkens, licensed clinical psychologist. "Send out multiple invites so people know where to log on, and to build the anticipation so everyone knows what is happening." 

Other tips from Beurkens:

  • Test the link in advance so you don't spend a lot of time figuring out if everyone can log on when the holiday celebration time arrives.
  • Figure out where to strategically place a camera in your home so you can see everyone and the lighting is appropriate.  
  • Schedule micro video calls with individual family members so you "see" each other for the holidays. 
  • Consider ordering a Grandpad for any seniors in your family who need an easy way to connect.

Create a new personal holiday tradition

playing a ukelele at home during the holidays

Do things that make you happy on the big day.

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"If you're spending the holidays alone physically, use this opportunity to create a new holiday tradition for yourself," Beurkens says. For instance, you could choose a new recipe to try or make a family favorite to enjoy on the day; pick a movie to watch complete with your favorite holiday snacks; or take a walk or jog at a favorite outdoor location in your area.

It might feel uncomfortable at first, but you may end up establishing a new favorite holiday activity. 

Parita Shah, a Reiki master teacher and mindfulness expert, suggests looking at this as more of an opportunity than a setback. If you're going to be away from loved ones during the holidays, it may be the first time you can do things your way. 

"Perhaps you want to come up with new recipes or gifting traditions," she suggests. "At the same time, honor the traditions that you admire. They can help you feel connected to where you come from."

Do something meaningful for others 

One surefire way to feel less lonely, especially on a holiday, is to do something that brings joy to others, Beurkens says. "This could mean volunteering in some way, sending holiday cards to a local nursing home or delivering small gifts to an area shelter for women and children," she says. "Whenever we do something positive for others, it brings us increased feelings of joy."

Volunteering your time or making a donation during the holidays can also help you find meaning. "Helping others is a powerful way to find fulfillment and feel connected to those around us," she says.

Acknowledge and accept

Shah says one of the best things you can do to feel less lonely is to acknowledge that this holiday season is different. The inability to gather with family this year is just one of many unfortunate consequences of COVID-19, and there's no sense in increasing tension by mentally fighting it. 

"Sit with any pressure that you may be feeling around making this season special or similar to previous ones," she says. "The more you work through your expectations of having a normal holiday season, or feeling connected to family, the more you can be present with the season's blessings that are in front of you." 

If you have kids

hanging out with kids at christmas

Remember that your kids might need help adjusting, too.

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If you have children who are used to large family gatherings for holidays, they may feel lonely, too. The most important thing, Beurkens says, is to empathize and problem-solve. "It's important to acknowledge how children are feeling and empathize with their disappointment or sadness," she says. "Let them know that you share those same feelings and understand what they're going through."

Then, you can shift into problem-solving mode by coming up with ideas for how you can create a new holiday tradition at home. Have a family brainstorming night where everyone gets to offer input on what they'd like to do for the holidays. You might decide on a family movie night, game night, crafting marathon or dance party -- anything your family can enjoy doing together is fair game.

Mailing gifts may also help your children feel less lonely, as well as the recipient. "Whether you mail a small inexpensive gift to a child in the family, or you're helping your child pick and mail something to an older relative or grandparent, the act of picking it out with your child and building the anticipation will help compensate for not being together in person," Beurkens says.

You needn't spend a lot of money. Inexpensive gifts like coffee mugs and T-shirts can be personalized to make the moment more special. To further enhance virtual gift-giving, have the recipient open the gift while on a video call.

Watch this: Custom photo gifts to keep in touch with loved ones
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.