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  • Writer's pictureAshton Rose

Alternative Ways of Celebrating Thanksgiving

NOTE: This post, given that it talks about Thanksgiving, talks a fair bit about family issues. While there's no graphic detail and it mostly attempts to provide positive ways of coping, keep that in mind while reading.

For those of us in the United States (and a couple other places), Thanksgiving is only a week away. The time for giving thanks, being grateful for what we have, and having large meals with family. But what if that doesn’t resonate with you, or you want to celebrate Thanksgiving differently?

There are many reasons why people might not want to celebrate Thanksgiving in a traditional manner. Let’s take a look at some of those reasons, as well as alternative ways to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Reasons for wanting alternatives

There are many, many possible reasons to not want to celebrate Thanksgiving traditionally, and it really depends on the individual person. Let’s just take a look at some common reasons, so we can better understand the need for alternative celebrations.

My personal struggle with Thanksgiving is one I know many other people can relate to. I have both moral objections to the holiday (as a direct product of colonialism that serves to further its effects) and, more pressingly, a difficult family history around the holiday.

Thanksgiving is a time when the idea of being with your family is really pushed on all of us. For those who don’t have the greatest relationship with their families, have trauma there, or are just physically far away, that can create a lot of challenges.

And if, like me, you have moral objections to celebrating, you might find yourself looking for what to celebrate instead of Thanksgiving. Well, don’t worry, because there are a lot of options.

There’s also the potential challenge of living far away from those you love, or in a new and strange place. Without the connection to community, it can be hard to find the love in Thanksgiving.

Or, maybe you just want to have different types of food for your Thanksgiving. Whatever your reasons, looking for how to celebrate Thanksgiving in a new way is completely valid. So, what are some alternative ways to celebrate Thanksgiving?

Alternative forms of celebration

Of course, not celebrating at all is always an option too! That is entirely valid and may be the best option for some people. However, we’re going to focus on alternative celebrations here, not just abstaining from celebrating.


This is something we see quite commonly, both in real life and on TV. The concept of Friendsgiving certainly isn’t new, but it is still considered a non-traditional way of celebrating.

This is an especially great option if you have difficulties around family history. Choosing to spend the day with your friends, your found family, could help you feel a lot better and enjoy the day more.

Find the people in your life you care about most, and see if any of them want to plan something together. You could even make it into a potluck or a small party, so there can be more of a celebration to it!

Spending it with someone else’s family

Once again, if family is a large part of the problem, you might enjoy getting to spend Thanksgiving with someone else’s family.

Personally, this is what I’ll be doing. I’ve found someone that I care about a lot, and I’ll spend the time with their family. Hopefully, this will help me feel like I am, in some way, part of a family that is loving, kind, and not harmful.

Of course, this can also be very difficult for those of us with family trauma. It’s a mixed bag, that depends heavily on your own mental state and the people you choose to be with. Trust your gut when it comes to that decision.

Non-American foods or themes

If you’re looking for things to do instead of Thanksgiving, one of the best options is to host a celebration that is decidedly non-American!

I have friends doing a Vietnamese Thanksgiving, and another one thinking about doing New Mexican food (which isn’t necessarily non-American, but is definitely non-traditional).

This is a great way to shuck the negative parts of American Thanksgiving while still having a good time. Plus, you can eat whatever delicious food you want! I personally think a Spanish-themed celebration would be both delicious and delightful.

Go out to eat

Similar to the last idea, another option is to simply go out to eat. This takes the pressure to cook off of you, and also gets you out of the house for a bit.

And of course, you can still get non-traditional foods when doing this! Maybe taking your friends out for a sushi platter could be more fun than a standard turkey with gravy.

Spend the day volunteering

One of my favorite alternative ways to celebrate Thanksgiving would be volunteering or doing some other act of service. At a time when I possibly feel alone or depressed, helping someone else could be a great way to get out of my own head.

There are so many great ways to do this. Soup kitchens, shelters, and food drives are almost always looking for help. You can talk to your local church or school, and see if they know of any community initiatives. Or, you could help out animals instead of people and volunteer at an animal shelter!

Especially on a holiday with the kind of messed-up history Thanksgiving has, it’s a great time to give back and put more good into the world.

Plan other activities

Celebrating Thanksgiving doesn’t have to mean big meals and delicious food, especially if you want to know what to celebrate instead of Thanksgiving. So if you just want to have a fun day, consider other types of plans you could make.

This could include a movie night, game night, going for a nice walk, decorating for the holidays, or basically anything else! Get creative with it, and think of what activities would be most beneficial and fun for you.

Plan nothing

I have one more suggestion for alternative ways to celebrate Thanksgiving: plan nothing. And I mean absolutely nothing.

If you want to be with someone else, plan that. But aside from that, don’t make any plans. Tell yourself “I’m not working today, I’m not thinking about homework, I’m just gonna do whatever I feel like.”

Then, once you wake up, you can decide what you feel like doing. Let the day ensue naturally, and figure things out as you go.

Doing this can be challenging for many people, myself included. Not having plans can be terrifying. But if you’re able to be comfortable with not having any plans, it can be really refreshing to have a day where you have nothing planned, and can just take things as they come.

Whether you want to celebrate with others, cook different foods, or simply do nothing, there are a lot of alternative ways to celebrate Thanksgiving. Find something that you will enjoy, that you can get into, and that won’t cause you too much distress.

And of course, not celebrating at all is always a completely valid choice. There are a lot of reasons why Thanksgiving can be difficult, so choosing not to engage might be your best option.

Lastly, some people are stuck celebrating in ways they don’t want to, or with people they don’t want to be around. If you’re in that situation, just do the best you can, ask for help, and know that one day, it won’t have to be like this.

Do you have other ideas for alternative Thanksgiving celebrations? Questions about what to do for the holiday? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know by leaving a comment below or tagging us on social media (@llctherapeutic on Twitter and @therapeutichealingjourney on Instagram).

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