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Not home for the holidays

More and more singles are sharing their holiday table with friends, rather than their family.

By Jennifer WolcottStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 25, 1998



BOSTON

There was a deep silence on the other end of the line.

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Margo Donohue had just informed her Mother that she wouldn't be home for Thanksgiving. In some families, such a blatant violation of ancestral tradition would be grounds for ostracism. Or, at least, a serious guilt trip.

But Margo's mom recovered rather quickly. It wasn't that she didn't care about her adult daughter's absence. Like many families, the Donohues celebrated the day with a houseful of relatives, heaps of food and much good cheer. The family had also always welcomed "holiday orphans" into their home. What made Margo's absence palatable to Mrs. Donohue was that her daughter was going to carry on that tradition by hosting a group of single friends in her own home.

That was three years ago. What began as an alternative to trekking from Margo's home in New York to her parents' home in California has turned into a highly anticipated annual event among her single friends.

Margo is far from alone.

The numbers of divorced and never-married American adults have more than doubled in the past 25 years, US Census surveys show. More and more of these singles are choosing to share their holiday table - be it Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Hanukkah - with unattached friends instead of parents, siblings, and dear Aunt Eleanor.

Reasons for making this choice vary. For some singles, it's purely practical: distance, expense, and the hassle of dealing with crowds on some of the busiest travel weekends of the year. For others, the choice is more deliberate and emotional: They feel a stronger connection to friends than family, at least at this stage of their lives. And they want to test their wings as independent adults.

Donohue, a book publicist, hosts an orphan Thanksgiving each year. "One of the things I am most thankful for, at least during this part of my life, are the friendships I have created as an adult. These are the relationships I have brought into my life, and they are the most important, day in and day out."

Amy Norris, who lives in St. Louis, agrees. "A gathering of single friends sometimes feels more meaningful because I have the time and energy to focus on enjoying the moment, feeling the gratitude, instead of making sure my turkey is as good as Mom's always was."

Ms. Norris and her friends don't abandon tradition altogether. Instead, they all bring one or two dishes from their own family recipes. "We share traditions, but also get to pick and choose the ones we share rather than feeling saddled with the whole accumulation of family traditions. One year we had turkey and only starches; three kinds of stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and rolls. No vegetables or salad."

The only rule at her annual Thanksgiving gathering is "no social expectations." She explains: "People can stay as long as they want or leave right after eating to go home and nap. And we definitely dress down. Elastic waistbands for sure!"

By taking away all the "shoulds," adds Norris, "I can feel the spirit of the holiday much more clearly."