Maybe you’re in school and can’t easily jet home for the holidays. Maybe you’re justifiably daunted by traffic on I-95 or delays at Logan Airport. Or maybe you’d rather spend Thanksgiving with “The Crown” and a fleece blanket instead of Aunt Agnes and her undercooked squash. Whatever your reasons, spending a four-day weekend on your own terms is perfectly acceptable — and often downright wonderful. Here are six lessons from those who’ve done it and love it.
There’s no shame in self-care
Somerville’s Susannah Buzard comes from Rochester, N.Y. — close enough for a weekend trip but just far enough to cause aggravation. She doesn’t enjoy the six-hour drive, and she ends up spending much of Thanksgiving shuttling between the homes of her divorced parents.
“I don’t have enough time to recharge,” she says. “And I’m supposed to spend equal time [with both parents].”
Rather than compressing extra stress into the weekend, the high school teacher now prefers to make her own traditions: visiting old friends in New York City for concerts, going on ski weekends with local pals, having dinner at the home of colleagues.
She explained to her parents that getting home was expensive and that she’d come back for Christmas instead.
“They grew to accept it,” she says. “It felt like self-care. With my parents getting older, I make sure to go home for Christmas, but [over Thanksgiving], I feel recharged and reassured.”
She recently counseled her hairdresser — a vegan stressed about dining with her disapproving in-laws — to do the same.
“I tell people that the holidays are super-stressful generally. Anything you can do to take care of yourself is worth it, and when you do see your family, you’ll be better for it,” she says.
Invite the ‘broken toys’
Tim Jackson and his wife, Suzanne Boucher, have maintained an open-door Thanksgiving policy for 35 years. Work colleagues, pals from the neighborhood, wanderers with nowhere else to go, the lovelorn and the travel-shy — all are welcome in their Somerville home.
It started when Jackson’s own mother could no longer pull off a traditional family Thanksgiving in Connecticut.
“One year, my poor mother couldn’t get the turkey right because she was going blind, and it turned into an unfortunate affair,” he recalls. “We thought, ‘Let’s have our own Thanksgiving.’ ”
He resists the “Friendsgiving” label — “that makes it trendy,” he scoffs; after all, he’s been doing this for three decades.
A longtime art teacher, film critic, and drummer, he began to collect “broken toys,” who returned to his home year after year. His wife, a counselor, attracted her own motley assortment of colleagues. Sometimes their three-story home would swell to 40 people, wandering the rooms, sitting on the steps, and meeting new friends. This includes two children, now grown, who prioritize being home for this madcap feast over other holidays.
Some guests are Latin and they salsa dance in the kitchen; his wife cooks; guests who prefer not to chat find jobs, such as shelling peas.
“Someone will always find a job. One woman came by and said, ‘I make the most wonderful gravy!’ It was actually the most watery gravy, but it did give her a task. And I carry up the tables and stand around looking stupid. I’m the dumb husband,” he says, laughing.
Colleagues are people, too
For some, holiday weekends are a chance to hide from co-workers. Not West Medford’s Nick Fisher. He grew up in northern Idaho, where he enjoyed traditional Thanksgivings on his family farm with an extended brood and sometimes the local veterinarian.
A job with Converse took Fisher and his wife, Tiffiny, to Portland, Ore., and now to Boston, where his colleagues have become friends. This is his second year away from home, and many co-workers — also from Oregon — are in the same displaced boat.
“We’ve had to create our own communities,” he says. “This is an opportunity for people to gather in a different circumstance. We can argue and disagree at work and know how to have healthy boundaries. You can have great relationships with people, even if you disagree.”
Food bridges the gap: This year, he’ll embark on another work Friendsgiving, where each family will bring something from his or her hometown. A Southern family contributes pimento cheese and crackers; another cooks macaroni and cheese. An Indian colleague specializes in chicken biryani. Fisher enjoys smoking turkey. A British family will offer a pie. And everyone (save his two young children) enjoy Oregon wines.
“You gain a whole new perspective on the people you work with, and this brings a sense of home for everyone,” he says.
Create your own rituals
Arlington’s Katell Guellec and her husband, Bob McCullough, have a small family. McCullough has a sister in San Diego; both sets of parents have died. Now with a child of their own (plus McCullough’s two grown children), they’re eager to create new traditions, especially around the holidays.
Both have worked in academia; for years, they invited international students to their home, many from China and India. Last year, they spent Thanksgiving with friends in Newton. Guellec always bakes a chocolate date pecan pie, a family recipe handed down from her uncle. This year, they’ll also spend the holiday with friends without immediate family close by.
Guellec is now a social worker, and she often counsels clients during the holidays — people who feel blue, lonesome, or overburdened by the holiday’s expectations.
“I think what’s really important is to know that you can create your own traditions and your own rituals, even if it looks different from what we might think of the more Norman Rockwell type of holiday,” Guellec says. “It anchors you when you feel like, ‘Ugh. I’m kind of drifting.’”
Now, her family of three travels to New York City in December to look at holiday displays; it’s something she once did with her mom. The family also makes pancakes every Sunday morning.
“Your traditions don’t have to be huge and spectacular,” she says. “A ritual is important because it’s repeated.”
Eat what you love
Acton’s Gene and Kyra Cook come from Maryland. They landed in Boston for graduate school — “like everyone else in the universe,” says Kyra, laughing — and never left.
They stick around on Thanksgiving “rather than trying to live on I-95 all day and turning around in four days,” she says. “And our family in Maryland doesn’t believe in being up here during the cold months. It’s smart and wise and makes a lot of sense.”
The Cooks spend the holiday with a family they befriended while their kids were in preschool. Their guests comes over for dessert, beer, and video games. But first, the Cooks cook on their own terms.
“We hate turkey! We’ve always done duck. I throw a duck in the oven and walk away,” Kyra says. “We do it Peking-style, and my husband makes the pancakes. I buy hoisin sauce. We have scallions, lettuce, cucumbers, and that’s how we eat it. Neither of us is Chinese — I’m African-American and he’s white — but it’s how we like to eat duck.”
They also make a side of dumplings, and her kids help bake pumpkin pie. (“It’s from a can, but the crust is my grandmother’s recipe,” Kyra says.)
After that, it’s time for “Zelda” and craft beer with their pals.
“The party ends when the kids’ meltdowns start,” she says. Easy.
Damn the dust
Belmont’s Gail Danneman and her husband, Michael, are originally from Cincinnati. Michael’s a chemist who received his PhD from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where he made lifelong friends.
“If you watch the ‘Big Bang Theory,’ I’m Penny, and my husband is Leonard,” Gail says. “We’re very social people. As you can imagine, chemistry PhDs could be boring. But these are sports-loving, beer-loving, have-a-good-time people. And we have 10 years of history.”
The pals scattered after graduation but happily ended up back in Boston for various biotech careers; now, most of them are starting families. This is Danneman’s second year hosting a Boston Thanksgiving for the 13-person crew, who come from all over the country and can’t easily get home for a four-day jaunt.
“We now have a 10-month-old,” she says. “Travel is stressful enough. With a baby, we’re going to wait until Christmas.”
Danneman provides the staples (turkey, stuffing); her friends sign up for sides on SignUpGenius. There’s also an ongoing “guy” and “girl” text chain where pals message one another about everything from newborn woes to apple-picking outings.
“There’s a lot of talk about the good old days in Nashville, but we’re all entering parenthood together, which is super fun. This is the first Thanksgiving with babies. Some of us had babies two weeks apart, so this year, we’ll have these extra bodies we created,” she says.
On that note: She doesn’t plan to make her home Instagram-perfect for the day. There will be infants. There will be tears. There must be realism.
She has simple advice for others wanting to replicate her tradition.
“Don’t stress how your house looks or if it’s perfectly clean,” she says. “It’s the last thing people care about. I normally stress about that, but with an infant, I’ve let it go. It’s not going to be perfect. It doesn’t matter. Our friends love us regardless of whether the dust is gone.”