For most of America, Thanksgiving means food, and family, and football. It means overcooked turkey and passive-aggressive comments about your English and American Studies double major. And it means coming together over pumpkin-flavored dessert in order to talk about the gratitude you feel.

But for some people, Thanksgiving is just another Thursday night—with the added benefit of not having to go to class. I’m one of those people. On top of the obvious moral case against celebrating genocide (which is a pretty strong argument, I think), it makes little logistical sense for my family to go through the hassle of a big Thanksgiving dinner when there are only three of us. So what does one do instead of a stereotypical Thanksgiving?

My answer: absolutely nothing. My day began at around 2 p.m., completely missing the parade and waking myself up with a nice bowl of dry Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I called a single family member to wish them a happy Thanksgiving (my 105-year-old great-grandmother who is the most amazing woman on the planet). I did some homework, took a walk, and later sat motionless for an impressive amount of time.

It may seem strange to some that our day was not spent preparing appetizers and putting things in ovens and burning ourselves. I find that food is often an important aspect of families coming together, with recipes passed down and family secrets about how to cook the perfect turkey. Food is a big part of a lot of cultures, especially around the holidays, and the impossibly deep and rich culture of many American families is more or less defined by how, when, and where that family eats. But for us, food was never really a way to come together, which is strange given how much I love the experience of sharing a meal with somebody. (I find that it’s one of the most intimate things you can do with a person). Food for my family is more just a means of keeping us alive. Thanksgiving is no exception.

For dinner, my family and I embarked on our blasphemous anti-celebration by going out to dinner, joining other non-traditional celebrators in quiet contemplation of how incredibly normal this particular Thursday was. We sat at a booth, ordered some bottled water (According to the town, the tap water is “almost” safe to drink), and talked as little as possible. My father, perhaps nostalgic for the Thanksgiving celebrations of his younger days, ordered the turkey dinner special, complete with cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. I ordered a pasta dish and ate my side salad of mostly iceberg lettuce quietly. Eating quietly is an art passed down in my family mostly on my father’s side, despite my mother’s constant attempts to try to open up a conversation. When my meal came, I kept my eyes locked on my penne as I ate quickly and without much thought. We skipped dessert, I double checked my mother’s addition skills when it came time to pay the check, and we drove home and each went to our respective parts of the house.

This all probably sounds kind of sad to a reader who loves a big family celebration during the holidays. But for me, it’s just our normal. I prefer it this way. As important as food is to me personally, it matters little in the context of my relationships with the people in my family. Turkey dinner isn’t a way to bring us together. Instead, the meals we share are kind of cold (emotionally, not temperature-wise) and eaten hurriedly and without much conversation. It’s why Thanksgiving doesn’t really matter in our family and why big meals are more awkward than anything else. Quiet and separate is how we live our lives, and it works for us. It’s not necessarily a negative thing, just a different way of coexisting. Thanksgiving disrupts that, which is why I’m looking forward to my penne vodka again next year. I imagine I’ll be thankful for that.


Spencer Arnold can be reached at

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