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Being thankful without the people I’m thankful for

Sunset at the Graduate College.
Mackenzie Hollingsworth / The Daily Princetonian

For some people, Thanksgiving is the forgotten middle child of the holidays. Halloween has months of anticipation: watching scary movies, planning a costume, and decorating the front steps. Christmas takes plenty of planning: buying gifts, decorating the house, planning Christmas parties. Thanksgiving is left in the middle as the holiday that people use as an excuse to eat a ridiculous amount of food without being judged. 

I've always loved Thanksgiving. While my mamaw and aunt would run around the kitchen, I would try to find something to help with before eventually deciding to sit in the living room and chase the kids around instead. My papaw, dad, and uncle would be talking about sports or politics or anything else I didn’t particularly care to listen to. My family was together, but Thanksgiving wasn’t a very special occasion because of this — my family has always been close. It wasn’t uncommon for all of us, grandparents, aunts, and cousins included, to have dinner together. However, Thanksgiving was the day that we reflected on that closeness, on the connection and care we have for one another.


Last year, I didn’t think that missing Thanksgiving would be as hard as it was. My family all called me and wished me a happy Thanksgiving, which I reciprocated. I talked to different members of my family throughout the day, but everyone always had to get back to their own holiday gathering. My mamaw could talk for a minute, then had to get back to preparing the food. My aunt could talk for five minutes, but she had to get the kids ready to head to my mamaw’s. While they did include me, I couldn’t help feeling alone. It was the holiday that was meant to bring family together, and I was stuck 500 miles away in a despondent dorm room.

I would usually rely on my boyfriend for comfort, but he was also at home with his family. One of the perks of going to school 100 miles from home is that you can go back more or less whenever you want to, so of course he was home for Thanksgiving. Yet, I was still in my dorm. I would like to say I was able to go out with my friends so that at least I had a meal with someone, but that would be a lie. In all honesty, I spent the day missing my family and wishing I could be home with them. I decided to work on a paper for a class I don’t remember now, and that was my holiday.

This year I will be in the same boat as I was in last year, except I will be stuck in an even sadder dorm (thanks, Forbes Annex). But I’ve realized that there’s no point in being disconsolate about not going home. Of course, I wish I could be with my family. I hate missing events: holidays, birthdays, or whatever. I always want to be home, but that’s not how life works. I’m just as capable of appreciating, loving, and being thankful for my family while at Princeton as I am when I’m sitting at the table with them. In fact, I think being away from them physically makes me appreciate them more. When I’m away, I see how much it means to be able to chase my little sister around the kitchen or help my mamaw prepare the food. I hate being away for Thanksgiving, but it doesn’t change how thankful I am for my family.

So, there’s no point in sitting alone in my dorm this year. Going for a walk, finding something good to eat (though nothing can compare to a home-cooked meal), or spending the day with a friend are all things I can do to celebrate the holiday this November. Sure, it’s in a different form from what it had been, but the meaning remains the same. I still have the people I love, and no distance can change that.

Mackenzie Hollingsworth is a contributing writer for The Prospect from Middlesboro, Kentucky. She is a member of the Class of 2026 and can be reached at