AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Thanksgiving is portrayed in popular culture as a time for gatherings of loving families and friends, holding hands while saying grace over a roast turkey. So begins a story on our website today, by our colleague Linton Weeks. But his story isn't about that portrayal. It's about the reality for millions of Americans who spend the holiday alone. For some, it's a choice; some, not.

Hoping to explore this idea of the solo Thanksgiving, Linton put out a call for stories on Facebook, and got hundreds of responses. We're going to bring you two of them now. First, Valerie Baxter in Fairbanks, Alaska, where she is a fur trapper. Valerie says this is the first time she can remember spending Thanksgiving alone. And I asked her why this year.

VALERIE BAXTER: Due to a recent divorce - you know, you find out who your friends are. And so - but they must all have something else to do today because I didn't really get any invitations for Thanksgiving this year. So I decided to come up with my own plan.

CORNISH: Tell us what those plans are.

BAXTER: I am going to go check my trap line. I just got started on a trap line with a couple of friends, and we have some trail to break. It's a brand-new area, so we have a lot of exploration to do. So I am going to do that while it's light outside, for a few hours. So, go outside and play in the snow.

CORNISH: How are you starting to reconcile the spending of the day alone? I mean, do you feel like this is a kind of opportunity?

BAXTER: Well, you know, it's kind of one of those things where while I might be physically alone, I don't really feel alone, in general. You know, my whole family will be calling me today, checking up on me and seeing how - they're doing. It's a tradition, of course. When you live this far away from your family, that's how we communicate - is, everybody calls on holidays.

CORNISH: And do you have any particular plans for your Thanksgiving meal?

BAXTER: Oh, yes. I have a duck; and I have sweet potatoes, and the typical, traditional green bean casserole and rolls. And then I've already cooked a pumpkin pie. And I'm looking forward to not having to share that entire pie.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Well, I have to say, I'm jealous. It sounds delicious.

(LAUGHTER)

BAXTER: I hope so.

CORNISH: Valerie, thank you so much for speaking with us.

BAXTER: Thank you. It was fun.

CORNISH: Valerie Baxter in Fairbanks, Alaska. Ken Cloud also answered our call. He's speaking to us from the Eastern Shore, in Maryland. And Ken, talk a little bit about how you ended up spending this Thanksgiving alone.

KEN CLOUD: Well, I have been working as a mall Santa for the past 15 years, and it just goes with the job. We begin every year at Veterans Day weekend. So when Thanksgiving rolls around, it's my one day off - out of those 45 or so days. There isn't really time to go very far from the work, so I usually end up spending it alone.

CORNISH: So you said it's your one day off. How do you like to spend it?

CLOUD: Well, this year, I'm spending it - pretty much relaxing. I went for a walk this morning for, you know, half an hour or so. Actually - had "Godfather" on, and was watching that film. It's really - the day passes quite quickly, as you might imagine.

CORNISH: Now, is it hard to be away from your family?

CLOUD: Well, of course, it is hard to be away from my family, and maybe especially this year. Today is my daughter's birthday - my oldest daughter.

CORNISH: Aww.

CLOUD: And I've been with her, on her birthday, two out of those 15 years. And she has a 5-month-old son. So my first grandchild, I have had to be away from him - which is especially difficult. But also, you know, it's better than it used to be because of social media and frankly, the telephone. I'm in touch with a lot of people today.

CORNISH: What is it about being a Santa that makes this worth it to you, then?

CLOUD: Children. I just think that children need to have their holiday experience made special for them. I think that children need to be children as long as they can. That spirit really sustains me from being away from my family. Although it's not a replacement for my family, it is something that I'm giving back.

CORNISH: Ken, what are you going to cook for yourself today?

CLOUD: Well, you know, I took care of that yesterday. I don't have any transportation, so I - one of my helpers, on the set, stopped by the store yesterday, and I bought some food that I could prepare in my room; you know, things that I can reheat. And so I'm doing that. I'm not eating heavily, that's for sure.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Even though you're Santa, we won't hold that against you.

(LAUGHTER)

CLOUD: Well, my family and I, we know - this was coming. So the Monday before I left home, we did the whole thing: the pies - you know, the ham, turkey, the whole deal. We had a Thanksgiving dinner. It was a pretty good sendoff.

CORNISH: Well, Ken, before I let you go, did you want to say happy birthday to your daughter?

CLOUD: I do. Happy birthday to my daughter Calla(ph), who is the most incredible young woman. And to her sister, Bethany, and my wife's family, I want to say happy Thanksgiving to everyone. And you included, Audie.

CORNISH: Thanks so much, Ken, for sharing it with me.

CLOUD: It was my pleasure.

CORNISH: Ken Cloud - he spoke to us from Maryland.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: This is NPR News.

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