For me, Thanksgiving has rarely been something that’s taken me “over the river and through the woods,” at least in my professional years. Instead, this Great American Holiday has kept me in New York City, eating dry, corporate turkey at my desk in bustling 24-hour newsrooms.
A few years ago, I managed to have a clear schedule and was dying to spend the holiday with my boyfriend’s family in the Midwest like a Normal Non-Newsperson. But that’s where the nightmare began.
There were no direct flights to his hometown from New York City, so we had to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles our way to Philadelphia by bus, which broke down twice on the New Jersey Turnpike, take a cab to the airport, and then hop a flight to Indiana (and, yes, there was a guy on the plane who decided to de-shoe during the flight). His parents then had to pick us up in Indianapolis to drive to their hometown, another four hours away.
And two days later, we had to retrace our steps for the 650 miles back to New York.
Sure, the time with his family was lovely, but after a $700 flight (not including cab fares, food, or years shaved off my life from stress), I wasn’t convinced.
And here’s a reason why you shouldn’t be either: More than 46 million Americans are planning to hit the roads (or the skies) this Thanksgiving, according to AAA. Even if you think you’re outsmarting the Wednesday chaos by leaving on Thursday, you’re probably not. AAA reports that 46.3 million people are expected to trek more than 50 miles for their Thanksgiving plans, the highest volume seen since 2007. That’s roughly half the people who showed up early to shop the Balmain x H&M collaboration (kidding). But, seriously, that’s a lot of sitting in traffic re-listening to the Serial podcast.
If that’s not enough to discourage you, consider this: Your Thanksgiving holiday will likely be peppered with awkward conversations with relatives you probably see only once in a blue moon. If you’re not in a relationship, you’ll probably get an earful of “nice guys” that are totally datable too. There’s something to be said for time with family, but a lightning-fast jolt punctuated by hours of hellish commuting isn’t necessary, especially with Christmas and Hanukkah right around the corner.
So why not just avoid the John Candys of the world and stay home?
If you’re really committed to being a Thanksgiving homebody, there are a few things you should do. First, take a head count of how many like-minded folks are ready and able to partake in Friendsgiving, and make sure your tiny apartment can accommodate the crowd.
Then, it’s time to take stock of all the vegans, pescatarians, paleo-types, or breatharians, and plan your menu accordingly. Try to have a few veggie or vegan-friendly dishes so no one is stuck munching on raw vegetables the whole dinner, and outsource side dishes like a madman. Cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, and mashed potatoes are pretty hard to screw up, and pies can be served chilled or easily warmed in the oven. Buy disposable plates, cutlery, cups, and napkins (enough for the inevitable unexpected guests too), and make sure you’ve got plenty of booze on hand.
Also make sure that your guests feel comfortable and welcome by adding a few personal touches like a pretty centerpiece, a scented candle in the bathroom, and, if you’re super ambitious, to-go containers so guests can pack up leftovers.
I tried out my experiment last year, putting on a potluck with other Thanksgiving “orphans”—friends who, for whatever reason, decided to stay in the city. Each of my guests brought a holiday staple—mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, every type of pie you could ever want, stuffing—and I handled the main course (turkey meatballs with apple and sage and a cranberry-vodka dipping sauce, if you care to know). And, of course, there was plenty of wine.
We ate, drank, and chatted for hours, laughing and catching up on the various things we’d done over the course of the year. There was no Drunk Uncle, no moody cousin who just discovered Hot Topic, no simpering from family members asking when my boyfriend would make an “honest” woman of me. Just food and fun, and one of the best commutes home ever.
This year, I had the chance to go to Florida with my parents for the holiday, but I’m firmly staying put. The idea of surf and sand are alluring, but, short of a polar vortex over Thanksgiving, I’m here for good. And that’s something to be thankful for.