Small Families / Couples / Singles / Holidays

Why Non-Traditional Thanksgivings Can Be the Best Thanksgivings

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Holly Pettit
Published in
6 min readNov 11, 2023


A small family — man, woman, and boy, clink glasses over a restaurant table. They all look relaxed and happy.
The holidays are for you. There’s no “right way” to celebrate. Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

When I was a kid, I loved Thanksgiving

As I matured, however, I realized I was just in love with the idea of the holiday. I was a sucker for the cozy gemütlichkeit that Norman Rockwell, Thomas Kinkade, and the Hallmark Channel portray, but found it hard to experience.

Like a lot of people out there, I don’t have the large, supportive, and convivial extended family to support this dream holiday. My family of origin has whittled itself down in recent years so that only my son and I remain — while my husband’s side of the family struggle to stay one state ahead of the many warrants sworn out against them.

“Not a problem,” I say. “Let’s invite friends over!”

That’s when we run into a brick wall

It’s called, “the entrenched plans of others.”

One couple we know who are empty-nesters and new in town would seem like the perfect people to invite over, except they spend every Thanksgiving on Cape Cod with relatives. Another set of friends spend the holiday each year in on an island off the coast of Maine with the wife’s father. It seems everyone already has plans. Firm plans.

I can’t blame them — it all sounds delightful.

But, it still leaves us with an empty guest list

And it’s not just us. Thanksgiving is — as the Lifetime channel likes to remind us — a time for tradition. Unfortunately for those of us who are singles or couples without extended family, that makes it hard to have a “traditional celebration.” But what is “tradition,” anyway? The accepted template for perfection seems a little too perfect — a little too much a product of American mid-20th century aspiration — to be real.

Medium writer Christopher Robin published an excellent article on this very topic:

Traditions evolve and change meaning over time. They are not static, and we need to learn to move on from the ones that don’t work…



Holly Pettit
Age of Empathy

New Hampshire-based M.Div. in Contemplative Practice. Writer for nonprofits, clergy & dot govs. Former Russian Linguist for the U.S. Army.