Season two, episode six of The Bear will soon be an overused cultural touchpoint of why you shouldn’t have Thanksgiving with your family. But because that episode (“Fishes”) came out in 2023 and we’re still in 2023, the lessons are fresh in mind and still apply. As “Fishes” warned us: You don’t need drama. You don’t need hours of meal preparation. You don’t need extended family in your home. (Spoiler alert: You also don’t need someone driving a car through a living room.)
Instead, make it simple this year: Go to a restaurant for Thanksgiving.
First, I don’t have any personal equivalent to “Fishes” in my past 50 years of Thanksgiving. I’ve enjoyed several late November experiences with my parents and extended family; we don’t have political arguments and our shared Midwestern upbringing keeps everything during the night civil (if occasionally passive-aggressive). If I had the time and budget, I’d happily spend my holidays with them in Seattle.
I’ve also experienced the ups and downs of Thanksgiving away from home — a few meals with my girlfriend’s parents (including one a in country that doesn’t have or really understand our holiday), some Friendsgivings, a few last-minute pity invites from acquaintances/co-workers/fellow students, a sick Thanksgiving where I stayed in bed and one awful 2010 where I, newly single, had to wait until 11 p.m. to eat just so I could meet up with a friend and attend the tail end of a Thanksgiving “party” on the off chance that I’d meet someone (I didn’t and reminder: It’s not a sexy holiday, and people who tell you this are lying.)
Good or bad, you shouldn’t have to celebrate your holiday in a specific way that involves your home and rarely-seen family, and certainly not one that already has you stressed out weeks before the meal (sample NY Times newsletter this month: “Good morning. We have a plan to help you prepare for Thanksgiving — and stay sane.”)
Now, a restaurant Thanksgiving? You get a set time to eat. No prep. No clean-up. A curated guest list (ideally, you and your partner and/or your immediate family). Plus, in New York, it’s the chance to experience the city when everyone has gotten the hell out. It’s downright peaceful here.
Because this is a holiday often built around arguments, let’s have one: At a restaurant, you’ll experience a limited (and usually priced-up) menu. Fair point. But while I rail against these limitations on Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve, I’ll happily forego a buffet Paradox of Choice and somebody’s mystery green bean casserole for a good meal at a set budget within a specific time frame.
And you can experiment! I’ve only experienced Thanksgiving through a limited cultural lens, rooted in white Middle America. New York, meanwhile, has some fantastic dine-out options that go well beyond turkey and mashed potatoes. our friends at Time Out, Secret NYC, The Curious Uptowner and Eater offer up suggestions throughout the boroughs that cater to different diets, nationalities and traditions (why not do steak or foie gras or vegan or, hell, a Thanksgiving flatbread pizza?)
After dinner, some bars will be open and probably less crowded than usual, and you can catch a solid post-meal NFL game (San Francisco at Seattle). Or you can just enjoy the fact that you can do whatever the hell you want for the rest of the night.
Give thanks for that.
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