In early November, PublicSource asked readers who planned to be alone on Thanksgiving to share their experiences with us. We hoped that people would find solace in knowing there are others in Pittsburgh going through the same. The stories we received ranged from bittersweet to nostalgic, gleeful to devastating.
We’ve also assembled a roundup of places in the area that host communal Thanksgiving events in case you are looking for some company on this complicated American holiday.
Submissions have been edited for clarity, brevity and grammar.
Trying to get settled
“I’m new to the city, and I don’t have a permanent home yet. Since I don’t have family here and I’m only beginning to meet people, I’ll be spending the holiday alone, and hopefully, I’ll be renting an apartment and not [be] homeless during the holiday season.”
Gobblerito and gratitude
“When I lived away from my family, I opened my doors every Thanksgiving to all those who needed a place to go both [for] Thanksgiving and Easter — those two holidays where it’s harder to travel home just to see family. I loved it. I had health issues, moved back home and then divorced. I realized how much less enjoyable it was. … So now [that I’m] disabled and living with family for now (maybe forever with the housing market), I enjoy a peaceful alone holiday when they go elsewhere. This year it should be that way. I will get a Mad Mex Gobblerito that week and maybe make a few fav sides and be grateful for a peaceful time to spend listing gratitudes and reminding myself of all that I have to be thankful for. I won’t be stuffing myself, trying to eat multiple meals in one day or over the course of two days, and I won’t have anyone grinching down my holiday spirit.”
It’s literal torture
“It’s not some cute, quirky thing, that you have nowhere to go on Thanksgiving. I’ve never had a Thanksgiving. I’m a foster kid who got adopted by terrible people and now as an adult I have very, very, very few relationships with anyone. I don’t just hate the holidays. They are literal torture. I’m on the outside looking in the windows watching people laugh with a table full of food and watching them be together and warm and happy and yes, I do understand that families are complicated and it probably isn’t always a happy experience but at least they have someone. At least they aren’t sitting in their apartment alone trying to find a movie on Netflix that isn’t holiday themed. At least they have someone that would notice if they didn’t show up for dinner. At least they aren’t trying to find a drive-thru that’s open because they forgot to buy food again. At least they don’t have to feel this gaping chasm inside of them that is full of the darkest pain that screams how worthless you are without end. I would give anything, anything to have a family, to have a real holiday, to have a Christmas tree and a turkey and ‘remember that Thanksgiving when’ and just to not be so terribly alone.”
Cycling and lasagna
“I won’t be alone this year, but the year I spent the holiday alone was one of my favorite memories. Made a pan of lasagna. Went for a bike ride. Sat in the town square and read a book; it was sunny. Told folks who invited me over that I already had plans, which was true. I felt very peaceful and wished I could do more alone holidays.”
Waking too late
“When you’re a nightclub DJ, and the club doesn’t close until 4:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, you’re kind of already taken out of the group that celebrates. Also, my mom and brother live in another state so there isn’t really an option of seeing them. There are no paid vacation days for people who do the job I do, and the night before Thanksgiving is an important one in my industry, therefore taking the day off is just not a realistic idea. On Thanksgiving Day, I will wake up at 2 p.m. and go about my normal routine of exercising and showering and such. At some point I will watch football and probably eat leftovers. Of course I wish the situation were different but these are the things I do to survive.”
Not explaining football
“In pre-pandemic days — and when both my husband and I were younger, more active members of our respective offices — we would invite everyone in our offices to our home for Thanksgiving. Because we had a lot of international colleagues, this thoroughly American holiday, full of family and football traditions, was lost on them. Because turkey is native to the Americas, I would serve both it and a ham. There would be much merriment and fun — just try explaining the finer points of football to a roomful of soccer players! But those days are in the past as we now telecommute. We no longer have the close connections, and with the ‘kids’ having flown the coop, we find ourselves just looking at each other thinking, ‘How DID we fit 35 people around the table?’ And, ‘I am a bit relieved we do not need to this year!’”
New city, same solitude
“I got my first apartment in Pittsburgh on the day before Thanksgiving 2016. I was 14 years into my recovery program. Today Mom, stepfather, Dad and stepmother are deceased; I was never really fond of my step parents but they were still family. As of September 2019, I was an orphan to my blood family, myself and society. November 2019, Mom was dead two months. All my Thanksgivings in Pittsburgh were alone. Thanksgiving is a very bittersweet time — more bitter than sweet. Yet, I remain grateful. My last Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh food was brought to me by our local Zone 1 police. I lived in public housing. It was okay to be fed, I guess. One more reminder that I was alone. Now, 20 years into recovery, I’ve moved from Pittsburgh to Baltimore. Alone on Thanksgiving. Again.”
Reminiscing and reading history
“The topic in itself is always bringing back memories of bygone years when Thanksgiving was my favorite American holiday. It was the only holiday when I enjoyed the idea of not having to exchange gifts, when the focus was on good and light conversations, banter, and great food. In my case, the initial meaning of Thanksgiving turned toward the amazing spread of dishes prepared by my ex mother-in-law. Years went by, I got divorced, the children would spend all holidays at their father’s since his family was local and that was the right place for my kids to feel the joy of being in a true family setting. For me, the invitations to Thanksgiving feasts slowly disappeared. In the years that followed, I received just one invitation to spend the holiday with a former coworker’s large family. All I remember from that gathering — done very much in the good ol’ Pittsburgh tradition — was that the food was abundant and consisted of every possible Thanksgiving staple! Much to be enjoyed until drinks started being consumed and the volume of the conversation would escalate. Fast forward almost a decade, a new marriage and a second divorce, and I realized that I had no friends of my own. Invitations to social gatherings became fewer and fewer, to the point of non-existent. In that scheme of things, there was only one invitation to a restaurant for a Thanksgiving meal with a family that I had been close to. I found myself not just alone, but living with that feeling of extreme loneliness and wondering how was that even possible? Was I being avoided because my health was in shambles? When I get to such a point, I have to stop myself from falling in the self-pity pool. I do admit, though, that it is difficult not to experience a level of disappointment, especially when I think of all the years when I invited both family members and almost-strangers who had nowhere to go to Thanksgiving gatherings, at my place. Yes, Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and many people I know will talk about the fabulous gatherings they will have had. I am genuinely happy to listen to their stories, but when I sit here, in my little abode, and enter my lonely state, I simply wonder who and what shall I express gratitude for? I guess I will simply revert to reading a history book, thinking of the true origin and meaning of Thanksgiving. Like many Americans — including people of Native American ancestry — I will look at all these celebrations as they mask a history of oppression that underlies the relationship between European settlers and Native Americans. Talk about a bleak take on the most cherished American holiday!”
There are worse things
“I’ve spent a lot of holidays alone. I think many people have, but for a long time I felt like I was the only person in the whole city who was alone. And I felt shame about that. Here are some things I’ve found helpful to tell myself: You are not the only person who is alone today. It isn’t true that everyone, but you, is having a glowing Hallmark holiday. There are worse things than being alone on Thanksgiving. There’s alcoholic-family-from-hell Thanksgiving. There’s cooking and cleaning for 15 people even though you’re exhausted. There’s biting your tongue at a table full of people you disagree with. And in the end, it’s just another day. Be kind to yourself. Eat what you want to eat, traditional or not. Go outside for some fresh air. If you’re tired, take a nap. Call people you love just to hear their voice, even for a few minutes. Be thankful for the good in your life. When coworkers asked about my Thanksgiving, I’d say, ‘I had a quiet day.’ And often they’d answer, ‘That sounds nice. My day was exhausting!’ There are worse things than spending Thanksgiving alone.”
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