Alone on Thanksgiving

Brandon Ferdig didn’t realize how bleak being alone on a holiday could be, until a quirky schedule caused it to happen to him.

Due to a quirk in the family schedule we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving over Saturday and Sunday this year. And with me needing my days off work to chip away at my book, this left Thanksgiving Thursday and Friday as days for me to hunker down and bust my fingertips on the keyboard.

Boy, was it lonely.

By being alone, this Thanksgiving was actually “perfect” for seeing just how vital relationships are to our wellbeing and happiness.

Sure, there’s phone and even video calling via Skype, but nothing replaced being in the physical presence of others. For that, I had no one around except Dusty, my brother’s cat, who I watched while he was with his inlaws in Dickinson, North Dakota. The lack of those around me and the isolation I felt was exaggerated because it was impossible for me to forget it was Thanksgiving–a day designed for something more important than work and productivity–a day to be around loved ones.

I work on a computer, not a typewriter. The Internet is a click away and so are the headlines and friend updates all about Thanksgiving. TV also so themed. Every time I took a break from writing, trying to “escape”, I was only reminded that was supposed to be around others.

Over the phone, I had a good friend coaxing me into joining his family for when he heard I’d be alone. I turned him down after his second round of coaxing Thanksgiving afternoon. I figured if I drove the hour to his place, spent time with his family, and then drove back, I’d be out a good 4-5 crucial hours of writing time. It also started to snow pretty good. I thought to myself proudly, “These will be the days I look back on and pat myself on the back for keeping my nose to the grindstone.”

By Thanksgiving evening, though, I was regretting my decision. One day can be a long time to spend alone in the right–or wrong–circumstances. By the time it was dark outside, I was longing for friends and family, and I learned a lesson in counter-productivity: being lonely interferes with your ability to do your work. A new thought came to me, “What’s the point of writing my book, if I don’t have people to enjoy it with?” Sure, this thought was a bit dramatic, but the fact that it came up indicated an important lesson about the situation: I need my family and friends. I knew this already, but it was pronounced clearer than ever before when spending this day of family all alone.

The irony with all this is that I was alone on Thanksgiving writing my book about my year I spent in China. But while I was in China, I wasn’t nearly as lonely when Thanksgiving came around over there. They don’t celebrate it of course. I guess out of sight, out of mind.

(By the way, don’t go on Facebook to try and cure your loneliness. All the pictures of cooked turkey made my floppy ham sandwich look pathetic and all the well-wishing and gratitude expressed–though heartfelt and lovely–nonetheless made me wish I was anywhere other than reading Facebook!)

The nail in this coffin? I did something Thanksgiving night I thought I’d never do–and at the explicit objection to some of those very Facebook friends–I went to Walmart at 10pm to get a jump on Christmas shopping. I have this great idea for Grandma, and there were some dandy deals for this item. I guess if I wasn’t going to be with family on this holiday, I could think about them and plan for the next holiday. Plus, I’d get a break from my work, get to be around some people, and witness this slice of Americana: Black Friday madness that I’ve only ever read about or saw on television. (Look for this in my next article.)

So this Sunday when we go around the table and say what we are grateful for, it’ll be an easy one: I’m thankful for my family and friends. I saw how bleak life is without; and how a lack of this in one’s life means a deterioration of all other areas you hold near and dear. Relationships with others is a prerequisite for enjoying work, leisure, and life.

About Brandon Ferdig

Brandon Ferdig is writer from Minneapolis, MN. He shares his personal growth pieces, human interest stories, and commentary at his blog. He is currently writing a book titled New Plateaus in China, a compilation of travelogue, personal experience, human interest, and social observations from China. You can follow Brandon on Twitter @brandonferdig.


  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    When I was a grad student, I ran the fraternity house, in a manner of speaking. Was up to me, on account of schedules, to close it up for Thanksgiving on Wednesday evening. In our climate, that meant something. If nobody’s around and the heat goes off you don’t know it until the pipes burst. That sort of thing.
    Got done about seven and decided to get a burger at a popular no-class burger and beer place. Lot of people there. The quietest, loneliest, most desperate place I’d been or would be in some time. Felt guilty that I was going to be home in about an hour.

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