13 percent don't plan to celebrate Thanksgiving

Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Date: November 17, 2004

Not everyone yearns for roast turkey and cranberry sauce at grandmother's house this Thanksgiving.

One out of every eight people is planning a non-traditional Thanksgiving or has decided not to observe the holiday at all, according to a survey of 1,022 adult residents of the United States by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University.

Thirteen percent answered "no" when asked, "Do you and your family plan to have a special gathering for a meal this Thanksgiving?" Lifestyle and family structure have an enormous impact on whether Americans plan to go over the river and through the woods for a family gathering.

"Children do figure very importantly in all of this," said Johns Hopkins University anthropologist Sidney Mintz, who has written about the cultural significance of food. "People without children are freed up from the need for Thanksgiving. They are not under pressure to bring the children to visit their grandparents."

Although Thanksgiving is America's most universally celebrated holiday, nearly a quarter of married couples without children say they will bypass a traditional family gathering this year. Many so-called "dinks" (double incomes, no kids) have become an important consumer group at Thanksgiving.

"The notion of travel at this time is very attractive to many dinks," said Amy Ziff, editor at large for the on-line reservations giant Travelocity. "They can go places where there are not a lot of screaming children around, where they can have the beaches entirely to themselves."

That's why foreign travel destinations like London, Cancun and Paris have become increasingly popular Thanksgiving travel destinations, Ziff said. About a fourth as many Americans will go to London as to New York next week, she said.

But the survey also had sobering findings since most folks not celebrating Thanksgiving also won't be globetrotting this year. Nearly a fifth of people in households earning less than $25,000 a year report they won't have a traditional Thanksgiving celebration. At the same time, 95 percent of people in households earning more than $100,000 are planning a family gathering next week.

"That's very odd. This isn't a very expensive holiday," Mintz said. "People think of Thanksgiving as a pretext to see each other. And it's a festive time when people can ceremonially, ritualistically overeat, then lean back and say how wonderful it is to be an American."

But the anthropologist also noted that poverty can weaken family bonds since traveling to visit distant relatives is prohibitively expensive, especially in times of high gasoline prices.

The survey found Thanksgiving also maintains its religious overtones. People who have no religious preference or who have not attended church services recently are twice as likely to skip a traditional observance as are people with stronger ties to organized religion.

The war in Iraq, lingering doubts about the economy and persistent fears of terrorist attacks have prompted a majority of adults to conclude America is "on the wrong track." This pessimism appears to have sombered expectations for the holidays.

Only 16 percent predict "this Thanksgiving will be the happiest you've ever celebrated," while 18 percent said it will be "not as happy as in past Thanksgivings" and 61 percent said it will be "about average." Five percent were undecided.

Nine percent _ mostly women _ said they find the holiday to generally be "a stressful time" while 86 percent said they "generally look forward to Thanksgiving." Again, 5 percent were uncertain.

The survey was conducted Oct. 3-13 at Ohio University's Scripps Survey Research Center in Athens, Ohio. The project was funded by a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation. The survey has a margin of error of about 4 percentage points.