How to make your Thanksgiving simpler and more enjoyable
This post may contain affiliate links. That means that, if you click on a link, and make a purchase, I could get a small commission, at no added cost to you. For more information, check our Full Disclosure Policy.
Oh the holidays!
Such a great time to spend with family, and friends. But also, the most stressing time for most of us! Sometimes it might feel like it is impossible to have one without the other. But is that true?
Well, no. As with many other things in life, we tend to make the holidays harder than they need to be. In our constant race to be the best mom, best dad, or best neighbor, etc. our lives become a non stop stream of to-do lists, unavoidable commitments, and of course, stress.
But, are we happy? Truly happy? Are we doing things because we want to, because it gives us an insane amount of satisfaction? Or is it because it is what is expected from us?
The answer is not easy. And it’s also very personal, and specific to everyone, and their circumstances.
During the holiday season, the things that we work really hard to ignore become even more real. Like our tight budget, the insufferable family member (don’t we all have one?), how terrible our kids (or someone else’s) behave while in company, etc.
Here is the thing, though. We don’t have to suffer. There is no law, rule, or anything that states we have to go thru so much, that there are no choices.
I get it, if you feel pressured to celebrate Thanksgiving or other holidays like “everybody else”. Or if you feel like you could possibly love those holidays, if only it wasn’t so damn hard!
Here are some things to consider, when planning your Thanksgiving holiday:
Nothing is more of a buzz killer than feeling so limited in funds that we can’t “properly” celebrate. In our quest to be like others, to go all out, we put ourselves and our wallets in danger of collapse. Thing is, it shouldn’t be that way. You should always do your math, get a realistic Thanksgiving dinner budget set up and stick to it.
How do I do that?
First, check all the sales in your immediate area. Many stores have deals that include, either a free turkey, or a very low cost one, when you spend X amount. If you find such a deal, then plan all your grocery shopping for the week, bi-week, or month around that sale, and take advantage of it.
Once that plan is in place, create your dinner menu around whatever items you’re shopping for, or already have on hand. Did you know that stores have cycles, and that you can always count on certain items to go on sale for that month/season? It is true.
For example, for November, not only turkeys are on sale, but also tons of baking items, like flour, pumpkin filling, sugar, etc. That’s because stores know that those items are largely used during the holidays, and they want to increase their sales. Hence the insane amount of deals to be found.
In this day and age, when almost everything seems to cause an allergy of some sort, you would be hard press to find a family or group of friends that does not have at least one member who suffers from one, sometimes deadly ones.
If you’re planning a get together, make sure to ask, and account for all food allergies when planning your meal. It might make meal planning much harder, but it could help make the dinner experience much more enjoyable. And the person who suffers from the allergy will be forever grateful for your thoughtfulness, and willingness to work towards making them feel more welcome.
As a picky eater myself, I know this can be a huge problem. I have gotten much better, and I’m willing to try many things now, that I wouldn’t have back in the day, but it’s still a struggle. Our kids are not too picky, and that’s mostly because we have worked really hard at it, but that’s not always the case.
In case there are picky kids (or adults) in the mix, try to include a few options that will make them feel included. One of the things that make some parents very stressed is having a hungry kid, who will not eat what is served, making them and the parents uncomfortable. Believe me, I know is no fun to have to include unnecessary dishes, when the meal is already complicated enough. But by being thoughtful about it you’ll reduce the general discomfort during the get together.
Lack of time
If there is one thing that I don’t like about those dinner parties, is the huge amount of time it takes to prepare for it. From meal planning, to shopping, to meal prep, it can feel like you spend over a week getting ready.
Start as early as you can. Plan a week or two in advance, make your grocery shopping list, go shopping as soon as you find the time, and if possible, make a dish or two the night before. Things like potato salad, green bean casserole, stuffing, and even brining and seasoning the turkey can and should be done the day before. That could mean sleeping in a bit, only to get up to stick the turkey in the oven, and make a few easy, last minute dishes while the turkey roasts slowly.
I am sure we all feel that the media, social media, and pretty much everywhere we look, there are pictures, and commercials featuring the perfect meal, the perfect gathering, the perfect holidays.
Those things, my dear, are fake.
The people in the pictures are posing. The people in the commercial are more often than not, strangers, who just met for the shooting. They are, most likely actors, getting paid to showcase what we all wish for, and rarely get: perfection.
No matter how hard you work at it, or how much you wish for it, your gathering will not be perfect. But that does not make it terrible. It makes it real. And it could still be fun and memorable.
Embracing our imperfections, and those of the people around us will give us a sense of peace, no matter what. All you can do is prepare well, plan the details, and go with it. It doesn’t hurt to have a few contingency plans (remember those extra dishes for picky eaters I mentioned before?).
Here are some things you could do to make it all flow better, even if not perfect:
- Clean up your home. Not perfectly, but enough to make all guests feel welcome, and comfortable.
- Play some nice, soothing music in the background.
- Lay out the main rules, and what is expected from your immediate family members/co-hosts.
- If you serve alcohol, do not let it flow freely. While it can make things fun, oftentimes it can become the root of problems, and uncomfortable situations.
- Keep the TV off (until football, of course, if watching the game is part of the tradition 😉 )
- Prepare a nice basket for everyone to drop their cellphones in; make it about being present.
- Consider setting up buffet style. That way everyone can serve only what they want and like (picky eaters heaven)
- If possible, set up an area in your home where younger kids can go hang out while adults converse.
- Plan some low key activities to enjoy as a group. These could be board games, a Just Dance® dance off, or, if the weather is nice, a basketball, or football game.
Not hosting the celebration? Here are some tips if you’re attending one instead:
- If possible, ask what the plans are. Who is coming to the get together, what is on the menu, time, etc.
- Ask the person hosting what to bring. Do not show up with whatever; make your contribution a meaningful one.
- Have a good, honest talk with your spouse, kids, or anyone else you’ll bring to the dinner. Discuss, and define what the behavior expectations, and anything else that could be a stress trigger for you or the dinner party in general.
- If there are particular circumstances, like tense relationships, for example, be as open and honest about it as you can with your host prior to the get together. It’s always easier to get the sticky things out, and clear the way to communicate openly.
- Whatever you do, do not expect everything to go without a hitch. Go with an open mind, and have a couple of contingency plans for those things that you might expect to pop up (Tired and cranky kids, anyone?)
Think you should just skip the Thanksgiving celebration altogether?
Maybe you should. And maybe you shouldn’t. Let’s just be clear about something: celebrating Thanksgiving should always be about 3 things:
- Being thankful
- Enjoying yourself
- Spending time with loved ones
If we follow this mindset, then we can all agree that having the “traditional” turkey dinner is not a must. It is entirely optional. What you cook or not cook, is up to you. And whether you decide to get together with others or host your own dinner party, or do nothing at all, is also up to you.
Your peace of mind, lower stress levels, and general well being are in fact, what truly matters. You should never feel like your way of “celebrating” is not OK, or not Thanksgiving-like enough. If the traditional celebrations are, in fact, what stresses you out, then skip them altogether. Better, have a talk with your immediate family (the people who actually live with you), and be completely honest about it.
Try and involve all family members (if possible) in the decision making process. Together, you can all come up with ideas of what to do, where to go (if anywhere), or what to cook. Take the time to listen to all suggestions and then decide on what works best for all.