6 Alternative Ways to Do Thanksgiving


Growing up, there was never any doubt about how Thanksgiving would be celebrated. Grams cooked the turkey and ham; the rest of us provided the traditional sides and desserts. Women and children ate at the "big" table, while most of the men migrated off to the den to yell at the Cowboys. Dinner was at one; home by six.

And it was like that year after year, without fail.

Today, we've created our own definition of Thanksgiving. Some of those traditions survived — you can still hear quite a bit of "couch-coaching" for example, when the Dallas game is on, and I always — always — make the customary pumpkin and pecan pies.

But we've adopted quite a few new traditions, too. That's the thing about holidays — you can make them anything you want them to be.

So, if the usual turkey and dressing just aren't doing it for you this year (or if getting together with family isn't an option) , don't sweat it; there are plenty of alternative ways you can still have a happy Thanksgiving.

1. Pick a Theme

One of the first things we did when we started hosting the holidays at our house was to agree that "dinner" wasn't limited to the traditional fare. As a result, we've done everything from brisket and barbecue to fajitas, complete with rice, beans, and yes, homemade sopapillas for dessert.

You could take this open-menu concept a step further and choose a different theme each year, exploring authentic cuisines from all over the world while expanding your cooking skills at the same time.

2. Pick a Cause

One of my aunts used to spend Thanksgiving volunteering at the local food kitchen… it was her way of giving back, she said, and reminding herself of the many blessings she had.

If this sounds like something you'd like to do, try contacting the Salvation Army or visit VolunteerMatch.org to find volunteer opportunities in your area.

Of course, you don't have to forego your traditional celebration completely in order to give back. We don't have a local food kitchen for example, but we do have a women's shelter that takes donations, so every year, we invite our friends and relatives to "bring a bag" when they come for Thanksgiving dinner.

The shelter gets a much bigger donation as a result and we all feel a little more "connected" to the spirit of the holiday.

3. Run Forest, Run

If you're looking for a healthy way to spend your holiday, consider a run. Turkey Trots have become something of a tradition in their own right, and there's probably one being held somewhere close to you.

Most races are in the 5k range, but there's several shorter and longer races available too. Visit Running in the USA and Run Signup to find nearby events.

4. Remember You're Not Alone

Having "nowhere to go" on Thanksgiving might initially make you feel a bit isolated but remember, you're not the only one in that boat and a good gathering doesn't have to be just family. Reach out to friends, neighbors, and co-workers — you might find others looking for a place to go. Coordinate a potluck and voila! Instant holiday gathering.

Can't find any takers? Try checking your local newspapers and/or community websites. A number of churches host an annual event for example, as do most cafeteria-style restaurants, such as Luby's. And don't forget to check your favorite eating places — many Cracker Barrel locations will serve Thanksgiving this year; DC Reynolds is hosting dinner for free.

5. Shop

Grab some friends or family members, make a reservation at a ritzy restaurant, and then spend your afternoon indulging in some early Christmas shopping.

More and more stores are starting their holiday specials on or before Thanksgiving Day. That means you can cash in on big savings, knock out your Christmas list, and enjoy good food and good company on Thanksgiving.

6. Get Away

If none of these ideas are making you jump up and down, how about a change of venue? Many hotels and resorts offer fantastic holiday packages, some with their own creative Thanksgiving twist.

The XV Beacon Hotel in Boston for instance, donates 15% of the room rate to the Greater Boston Food Bank, so your trip helps those who are less fortunate. You can also visit the Plimoth Plantation which, according to the history books, is the locale of our very first Thanksgiving… as in, ever.

The Resort at Squaw Creek in California offers an all-day Thanksgiving buffet, breakfast with Santa and enjoy the Grand Tree lighting ceremony while you stroll through a life-size gingerbread village.

If that sounds a little more upscale than you wanted to do, then consider the Riverwalk in San Antonio, a B&B in beautiful Hill Country, or just pick a spot you'd like to visit and find yourself a nice hotel room with a view. Remember, home is where the heart is.

How will you spend Thanksgiving this year? Please share in comments!

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Guest's picture

"Viola" is a type of fiddle.

"Voila" means "there you go!"

(Perhaps one of one's nontraditional guests will be handy with a bow!)

Lars Peterson's picture

Thanks for the catch, IBIKENYC!

I've corrected the text.

Kate Luther's picture

Oops! I definitely missed that one. Sometimes my fingers get ahead of my brain. Thanks for the catch :)

Guest's picture

How about finding something to do which doesn't involve making others work on a traditional family holiday. Shopping? Really? Either get family or friends together or go help someone else. I'm tired of people trying to destroy traditions to make or save a buck.

Guest's picture

Disappointed that you suggested going shopping on Thanksgiving. Those employees deserve a holiday, too! Especially right before the crazy Christmas season. I usually enjoy your articles, but that item was difficult to agree with.

Kate Luther's picture

Okay, I knew I might get some backlash on that last suggestion and between you and me, I went back and forth on it myself… here’s why I decided to include it:

Personally, I agree that everyone should have the opportunity to celebrate the holidays and no one should have to work if they don’t want to.

That said, there are those that have nowhere to go and no one to spend those holidays with and it’s for that reason that many restaurants choose to stay open and serve holiday meals. Having worked in the service industry myself, I know that there were many people who were thankful to have a place to go where they could be with other people… even if those people were complete strangers.

I also knew a few people who volunteered to work on those days for the same reason… they didn’t have anything else to do, so why not spend it making sure someone else had a nice holiday dinner? Others did it for the money – many establishments pay extra if you work major holidays.

Now… are the malls and stores staying open to extend that same comfort or are they looking to increase their bottom line? It’s probably more of the latter, but the end result is the same: there are people out there who would rather shop on Thanksgiving, for whatever reason, and the stores provide that option.

I did include other options first, such as connecting with friends and neighbors, volunteering and running a Turkey Trot marathon, but there will be those who choose to shop on Thanksgiving, whether I included that option in this article or not.

Ideally, everyone should have a place to go and something to do on Thanksgiving and again, anyone choosing NOT to work on a holiday should be able to do so without consequence… but that’s a separate debate. Being open for business on Thanksgiving is definitely not a perfect idea, but it does fill a need… even if it stems from a purely capitalistic motive.

As always, I appreciate ALL your comments… even the not-so-flattering ones.