Letting go of family expectations to have the Thanksgiving you really want

Rose Bak

Why I choose to do nothing on Thanksgiving — and it’s the best decision I've ever made.

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The same thing happens every year the night before Thanksgiving.

Around 6:00 p.m. I put on my pajamas and a thick pair of socks. I sigh happily because I know I’m not taking those pajamas off until Friday.

I’m about to have my perfect holiday —wearing pajamas and doing nothing.

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“What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” people ask me in the days leading up to the holiday.

When I say, “nothing” I get the sympathetic head tilt. It’s been worse this year, with everyone talking about how they’re going back to “normal” Thanksgiving after last year’s pandemic holiday.

I can see the sympathy in their eyes. “That poor thing has nothing to do on the holiday,” they think.

When I add, “It’s going to be great” or “I love having no plans” people look confused, or give me a look of outright disbelief.

Sometimes they think I really want to have plans and am just showing a stiff upper lip, as they say. That often leads to them giving me a pity invite to their holiday event.

Sometimes they understand that I’m dead serious when I say that I’m happy that I’ll be doing nothing. Often I can see them wondering what is wrong with me. I mean, who prefers to do nothing on the biggest family holiday of the year?

Here’s the thing: for some of us, the best holiday is no holiday.

Holidays were overly dramatic and miserable for me as a kid. Trapped in a cigarette smoke-filled house with crazy people drinking and fighting and crying — that did nothing to teach me any love of holidays.

As an adult, I spent many years yielding to boyfriends or determined friends who insisted that I had to spend holidays with their families. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the invitations and sometimes I even had some fun, but it wasn’t what I really wanted to be doing.

Holidays felt like a chore.

Some years I felt guilty about people who were Thanksgiving orphans. I bought into the idea that no one should be alone and had people over to my house to create my own kind of holiday. Again, sometimes I had fun, but it was also a lot of work and stress and frankly, not what I wanted to be doing.

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Several years ago, I decided I had enough. I decided that from now on, I was going to have Rose’s Perfect Thanksgiving.

What does Rose’s Perfect Thanksgiving look like?

I sleep in. I stay in my pajamas all day. I read. If the Chicago Bears happen to be playing, I watch the football game (Go Bears!). And then I watch three shows that I never miss on Thanksgiving.

First, I watch Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving, and just like I’ve done for over 40 years, I laugh my butt off when Snoopy fights with the lawn chair.

Then I watch “Pangs”, a hilarious Thanksgiving episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”.

I end with “Home for the Holidays” which does a fabulous job of combining difficult family dynamics with humor.

Other than that, I do nothing. Literally.

Usually, my roommate and I will cook a bunch of food and leave it on the kitchen counter as a buffet. It might be vegan Thanksgiving, or it might be Lou Malnati's pizza that we order flown in from Chicago, or it might just be bread, cheese, and salad. Sometimes we won’t cook at all and have cereal or yogurt.

That’s the beauty of Rose’s Perfect Thanksgiving: There are no expectations. No requirements. No drama. No hard work. Only me, my pajamas, and a beagle boxing with a lawn chair.

Well, and my roommate and our dogs.

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The thing about holidays is that they are so fraught. My family of origin is not unique in this. Every year I hear horror stories from friends and coworkers who have miserable holiday visits with their families.

People stress out about how they’re going to deal with their racist and homophobic Uncle Bob. They wonder whether their dad will be drunk or whether their disapproving mother-in-law will criticize their cooking. They spend a ton of money and time to make a lot of food that people binge on until they’re in a food coma. They feel resentful that they have to beg people to do the dishes. They stress out about traveling and the weather.

So many people are fixated on the impossible ideal of a fantasy holiday. And then they’re disappointed.

There’s also the hypocrisy of the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s a white-washed fantasy of pilgrims and Indians that forgets about the part where Native Americans were slaughtered and forcibly removed from their land.

There’s the hypocrisy of saying how great it is to have your family together when they drive you nuts in the best-case scenario and are abusive in the worst case. The hypocrisy of celebrating immigrants who came in the 1600s to be free of persecution while we persecute the immigrants and refugees trying to come here in 2021. The hypocrisy of expecting low-wage workers to keep stores open for your holiday purchases while you get to be with your family.

Maybe you don’t care about any of that. But here’s the thing: I think we should all do what brings us joy on the holidays.

Life is too short for anything else. If having a big fancy Thanksgiving with your family truly brings you joy, awesome. If your family holidays are more horror than Hallmark, make another choice.

As for me, I’ll get my own joy — wearing my jammies and doing nothing.

ThanksgivingFamilymental healthholidaysself care

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Rose Bak is a freelance writer who lives in Portland, Oregon with her family and special needs dogs. She writes on a variety of topics including local news, homelessness, poverty, relationships, yoga, and aging. She is also a published author of romantic fiction. For more of Rose's work, visit her website at rosebakenterprises.com or follow her on social media @AuthorRoseBak.

Portland, OR
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