How I Survived My First Thanksgiving Without My Extended Family

Holidays were always a big deal for my family, especially as I was growing up.

I have a very large extended family who all lived within half an hour of each other when I was younger, so holidays were the perfect opportunity for all of us to band together and celebrate. There were about 20-30 family members who lived in the area, so you can imagine how busy and hectic all our holiday get-togethers were.


Thanksgiving was an especially awesome opportunity to spend time with the family. We would switch houses each year, but the premise was the same—everyone would come over early, bearing multiple appetizer dishes and ingredients to cook whatever couldn't be transported.

We'd start munching around noon, digging into chips and salsa, candies and other holiday appetizers that were laid out on the table. Since there were so many people involved, a real, sit-down dinner was a bit out of the question. Instead, we would all grab plates of food around the same time and establish ourselves in little groups wherever we could find space.

How I Met Your Mother: Lily staring at a turkey

(How I Met Your Mother via CBS)

I'd spend the day hanging out with my cousins, playing outside and eating way too much food. It was a simple, straightforward holiday. Everyone helped make the meal, everyone ate a lot of food and everyone stayed late into the night waiting out the food coma before they drove home.

Before my 11th birthday, however, my family made a big move, which came with quite a few life changes. When Thanksgiving came around that year, it was clear that things were going to be very different. Instead of a house full of people and endless activity, it was just the five of us planning out our Thanksgiving meal.

I was still so young, but I can remember how different, and almost sad, everything felt. I felt the twinge of missing my family before that, but this was the first moment that the absence of everyone I grew up with really stung. I was convinced that our holiday was going to be ruined, simply because I couldn't imagine the point of celebrating when everything felt so dull and different.

And I wasn't wrong—Thanksgiving wasn't the same. Since we didn't have a horde of people that were able to help with the meal, my parents spent most of the day in the kitchen cooking every dish for our small holiday celebration. Although they were always distracted by cooking on Thanksgiving, my siblings and I were usually too busy playing with our cousins to notice.

Since we didn't have other family members to distract us, our parents' preoccupation with the meal only added to our loneliness. We were too young to help, so we spent most of the day lounging around and watching TV until it was time to eat.

The Blind Side Thanksgiving Day meal scene

(The Blind Side via Alcon Entertainment)

Despite the subdued and odd environment, there were plenty of positive aspects to our tiny Thanksgiving. Although the lack of people and activity definitely felt odd and uncomfortable, it also gave my immediate family a chance to genuinely enjoy each other's company.

Usually we were so busy running around and chatting with other people that we didn't have any time to spend with each other. On that first Thanksgiving alone, we sat down at the table together for the first time ever and actually discussed what we were thankful for. At the time it felt weird and frustrating, but it was honestly a beautiful way to tell each other how much we cared.

Not only did we get to eat our meal in peace at a table and actually enjoy all the amazing food, we also got to spend quality time with each other. Those moments were few and far between in my busy house, and I never realized just how much we missed having them with one another by having so many people involved in our holidays.

Riverdale Thanksgiving

(Riverdale via The CW)

Over the years, our Thanksgivings haven't gotten busier, but they've become more comfortable. Now we all help prepare the meal, fostering an environment where we each feel accomplished once we dig into the piles of food and soak in a little more family time in the process. Then, after we recover from our food comas, we'll often play games together or watch a movie, giving us more time to simply enjoy each other's company.

I wouldn't trade my busy childhood Thanksgivings for the world, but I also wouldn't let go of the more intimate gatherings I've become accustomed to. While being surrounded by people on holidays is so much fun, it can be equally as exciting and comfortable to enjoy the little moments with the people you're closest to. It might not be what you're used to or what you would ideally want, but if definitely gives you a few more items to add to the list of things you're thankful for.


Feeling especially grateful for your fam this holiday season? Click HERE for Instagram captions to use because you're thankful for family this Thanksgiving.