How Are You Feeling About Thanksgiving This Year?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Last week, we put out a survey to readers asking about Thanksgiving plans, and over 400 of you responded, telling us how far you’d be traveling to see friends and family and how you’d be getting there. We compiled the results and Andrew made this cool graphic:

Andrew McGill / The Atlantic

As you can see, we also asked how you were feeling. In the aftermath of an ugly presidential season and a shocking upset of an election, Americans may find their family gatherings more fraught than ever this year—and in this era of a deep political divide between the city and the countryside, that may be especially true for the people who are traveling far to see loved ones.

When we asked, generally, what emotions you were feeling, most of you didn’t bring up politics. But about 14 percent of you did. For some, that’s the reason they look forward to having family close. As one reader puts it, “I want to hug the ones I love following this dreadful election.”

Most others, though, anticipate discord. “I dread the spectre of Trump looming over our table,” a reader sighs. Another traveling home to Michigan expects to be alone in grieving Trump’s victory, and one going to rural Alabama looks ahead to “further exhaustion: over-worked and underpaid to go ‘home’ to a different kind of work—tactfully avoiding political discourse.” Another reader is feeling “anxiety because of the election,” but for more complicated reasons than Clinton vs. Trump: “I’m queer and my (Clinton-supporting) family isn’t totally down with that and I’m not ready for the discussions around the dinner table.”

A tiny number of people—2 percent of everyone who responded—said they actually canceled plans because of the election. (That’s not counting the people who said they were newly relieved to be staying home, or those who were dreading Trump talk so much they wished they could skip the family dinner.) One reader: “I want my family to know that their political choices have personal impacts.” Another explains, “We can’t face family that voted for Trump.” And for a reader with a conservative Republican father, a schism over politics was a long time coming:

We’ve had our disagreements but we could always be civil until the last five years. I’m spending Thanksgiving alone because my father (a Trump supporter) sees me as the enemy and “does not like me anymore.”

But among your responses is also, as one reader puts it, “the usual family drama.” There is stress over traffic and cooking and in-laws and meeting a boyfriend’s parents and, for a gay woman, introducing a girlfriend to extended family for the first time. Some look ahead to bittersweet celebrations—the first family gathering since a grandfather’s funeral, the first Thanksgiving without a mother, perhaps the last with a sister in hospice. This reader is nervous: “First time I will not be drinking while surrounded by people that love to drink.” Another says:

Thanksgiving has traditionally been a high-stress time for my family, filled with high expectations and obligations. This year is the first without such feelings, so I’m anticipating a chill and relaxing day.

It’s encouraging, in the dreary-as-usual November of an unusually divided America, to see that just over half of you are purely happy about seeing your loved ones for Thanksgiving. (This includes, of course, the person who simply wrote “Turkey and gravy”—agreed. Enough said.) And in a more poignant way, it’s encouraging to see all these mixed feelings all mixed together. We’re a country of mixtures and contradictions, and we are families of the same. And in the briefest descriptions of your feelings headed into the holiday, there’s a spectrum to match. Excited. Resigned, you wrote. Sadness. Peace, fulfillment. Anxious. Joy. Joy.