Kira Asatryan

The Art of Closeness

4 Reasons Thanksgiving Is the Loneliest Holiday

Can this holiday, paradoxically, induce the most loneliness? Yes. Learn why.

Posted Nov 18, 2015

 Paolo81/iStock
Source: Paolo81/iStock

Thanksgiving is the holiday where people come together. At least, that’s what most of us are conditioned to believe. While Thanksgiving has the potential to be the most inclusive and unifying holiday on the calendar—particularly for families—it also has the potential to generate the most loneliness.

What makes Thanksgiving a trigger for loneliness? Let’s look at the four main reasons Thanksgiving, the most family-friendly holiday, often backfires the most.

1) If you’re physically far from family, you’ll likely stay that way.

If you live far away from the family you choose to gather with on Thanksgiving—as many people do—there’s a good chance you’ll miss out on the “family” aspect of Thanksgiving altogether.

The combination of (often intense) work schedules and Thanksgiving’s proximity to Christmas makes it so most people cannot find the time or money to fly home for Thanksgiving.

And unlike Halloween or New Year's—holidays people typically feel fine spending with friends or acquaintances—the absence of family is truly felt on Thanksgiving. Spending this one day alone can greatly exacerbate any existing feelings of homesickness, disconnectedness, or distance from loved ones.

In other words, Thanksgiving, more than any other holiday, calls attention to the fact that you’re far from those you love.

2) Thanksgiving brings distance within families to the forefront.

Physical distance is not the only kind of distance one can experience on Thanksgiving. You may spend the entire four-day weekend with your family, but if you feel mentally and emotionally distant from them, those four days can feel like an eternity.

In other words, Thanksgiving tends to bring any lack of mental or emotional closeness within families to the forefront. One can easily feel lonely even in a big group of people, especially if those people around you do not appear to understand you well or care about you very much.

In fact, spending time with a group of people who don’t understand you or care about you can make you more lonely than just being alone.

3) The heightened expectations for closeness on Thanksgiving can backfire.

Because Thanksgiving is understood to be the holiday of togetherness, we often come to it with heightened expectations for feelings of closeness. If any holiday should alleviate loneliness, it’s Thanksgiving, right?

The idea underlying this expectation is that one should always feel naturally close to one’s family—that families are somehow inherently closer than other groups of people.

But for many, this “natural” closeness never materializes. In fact, the more one expects “natural,” “organic,” or “automatic” closeness with family and then doesn’t experience it, the more lonely they will become.

In other words, feeling misunderstood or neglected on this day—the day of acceptance and inclusion—can hurt more than on any other day.

4) Thanksgiving aggravates any tension around “traditional roles.”

Thanksgiving is arguably the most “traditional” American holiday. While tradition can be great, the nature of this holiday pokes at any tension within families around traditional roles—particularly gender roles.

For example, is it suddenly expected that the women will do all the cooking on Thanksgiving, while on any other day men and women would both be preparing food?

These sudden shifts in “roles” can make a person feel like she’s less able to be herself around her family, or even worse, like her family relationships are becoming obligations. Once “family time” starts feeling like a chore, it’s easy for loneliness to creep in.

If you’ve noticed that Thanksgiving is a trigger for your feelings of loneliness, know that there are good reasons why this is the case. Once you identify the source of your loneliness on Thanksgiving, you can make an effort to overcome it.

Kira Asatryan is a relationship coach and author of Stop Being Lonely: Three Simple Steps to Developing Close Friendships and Deep Relationships.