Colleges

I Can't go Home for Thanksgiving. Now What?

Thanksgiving is a holiday that revolves around family. So, students that live far from campus and are not able to go home for Thanksgiving can be left feeling disappointed. Luckily, schools and communities realize that not everyone is able to be with family on Thanksgiving and try to make everyone feel welcome and offer alternative ways to celebrate. If you’re in this boat, this article will give you five ways you can enjoy Thanksgiving, connect with your new community, and create some new traditions.

1. University events

Thanksgiving event at the University of Findlay.

Many colleges and universities have some sort of Thanksgiving event in place that invites students who are on-campus to attend, usually in an auditorium, gym, or communal space.

Eliza Frakes, Dean of Students, Office Student Worker, shared Lewis and Clark College’s Thanksgiving tradition.

“Every year, the president of the College and his family host a free Thanksgiving dinner for students who are not able to go home for the holiday. The dinner takes place at the president’s house, about ten minutes from campus,” said Frakes. “All students are welcome, and transportation is provided to and from the College. It’s a really great way for students to get to know one another, have a community dinner, and connect with faculty and the school at large.

2. Community traditions

Students from Pennsylvania State University give Thanksgiving meals to community members.

Since Thanksgiving is about expressing your gratitude, a long-standing tradition in many families and communities involves community service and giving back. Soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and churches organize community service events that help people and families who don’t have access to a Thanksgiving dinner. Find a service event that you can spend your Thanksgiving Day participating in, and you’ll feel both grateful and helpful.

Alexxa Gagner, Director of Public Relations at Denver Rescue Mission, said that many students participate in volunteer work with the organization throughout the year, including over school breaks. She explained Denver Rescue Mission’s community-wide Thanksgiving event, where they collect 6,000 donated turkeys to distribute throughout the community to over 100 different organizations, nonprofits, churches, and schools. Gagner said that this event impacts thousands of community members in a variety of ways.

“[The event is] empowering families to put the turkey back on the table to maybe families on the margin that are not able to afford Thanksgiving. That’s a big push for what we’re doing is for people to have their own Thanksgiving and then for people who may be experience homelessness or are part of one of our programs, we do a traditional, prepared Thanksgiving meal at our location,” said Gagner.

Gagner explained that since many people want to volunteer over the holidays, volunteer spots often fill quickly. So if you aren’t able to sign-up to volunteer at a particular organization in time, community-wide events like the turkey drive involve plenty of other, smaller organizations that could also use your help.

Kim Marcelliano, Product Manager at Peterson’s, found her own, unplanned way to volunteer on Thanksgiving.

“Through friends of my church, I learned of a local homeless shelter that was trying to do something nice for those staying there. So, a bunch of us banded together and bought a whole bunch of hot coffee, donuts, and other snacks so they were able to have a hot breakfast on Thanksgiving. It wasn’t a scheduled type of thing, just an idea someone had and we went with it. I did it because I knew it would mean a lot to the people who were staying there–give them maybe a bit of hope for a better future,” said Marcelliano.

See also: What you Learn on an Alternative Break

3. Friendsgiving

Friends share a potluck meal.

This is a tradition you’re probably already familiar with, and for good reason–“Friendsgiving” is the best! If you have a few friends, or even acquaintances that you know are staying on-campus, consider getting everyone together for “Friendsgiving”. You can really get in the spirit and cook a classic Thanksgiving meal, you can have a potluck where everyone brings their favorite dish, or you can go out for Chinese.

The point is, it doesn’t really matter what you eat or do, but being around friends for the holiday will feel almost as homey as being around family. Plus, it’s a great way to feel closer to people you didn’t know as well before, especially if it’s your first year at college and away from home.

Ava Ferguson recalled her first Thanksgiving away from home, when she studied abroad in Bangkok, Thailand, and made the most of the holiday through a “Friendsgiving”.

“Friendsgiving in Bangkok was really special to me. We found a little diner that served an American-style Thanksgiving dinner and arranged for a group of us to go. It turned out that the owners were of Thai and American descent, and their mother, who taught them American-style cooking, was from Kentucky–my home state,” said Ferguson. “The familiarity of the southern-American style food and the joy of celebrating friendship among people from different walks of life was so special!”

4. Thanksgiving Day parades

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

Check to see if your town or city that has a Thanksgiving Day parade, as this is another popular tradition you can join. Even if you aren’t in New York or Chicago, lots of smaller cities and towns have their own version of Thanksgiving day parades. Festive floats, crowds of excited people, and music will get you in the spirit.

Ruth Adler, Staff Accountant at Peterson’s, previously attended the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

“It’s just awe-inspiring. The enormity of it, and to see kids light up is incredible. Also, the anticipation of seeing Santa at the end is priceless. It keeps people young at heart,” said Adler.

5. “Adopted” Thanksgiving

Family Thanksgiving selfie.

Another way to be excited for Thanksgiving is to join in on another family’s traditions. Maybe you have family friends in the area, or a friend who’s family would love to have you. Don’t be shy in asking or accepting an invitation, lots of families are happy to host people who otherwise might be alone on Thanksgiving.

MacKenzie Mantsch recalled a time when she went to another family’s home for Thanksgiving when she wasn’t able to be around all of her family. This year, she is able to do the same and is hosting a friend who is unable to go home this season at her family’s Thanksgiving.  

“It felt so good to be welcomed into someone else’s family for Thanksgiving, and it’s great to be able to turn around and welcome someone into mine this year,” said Mantsch.

While of course, you may prefer to be with your family on Thanksgiving, getting everyone together isn’t always possible when family members live far from each other. So, having a fun plan for Thanksgiving will give you something to look forward to and help you feel better about the holiday. Whether you spend it with your community members, friends, or classmates, just being around people will get feeling jolly.

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