In the United States Thanksgiving is a pretty big holiday. I would say it’s in the top three along with Christmas and Easter. To many people here, it’s not only a holiday in itself, but it also kicks off the Christmas season. Thanksgiving is a time when most families gather together around a big meal to give thanks as they enjoy their time together.
Often times the family gatherings can be quite large and expectations can be high. This can lead to stress for the host and for the participants. That’s a shame really, because Thanksgiving should be a fun time to enjoy the company of your family instead.
Family dynamics often play a part in this, but there are factors that we can control to make Thanksgiving celebrations more enjoyable. Today I want to talk about simplifying Thanksgiving so that it’s a holiday you look forward.
You Decide How Your Family Celebrates Thanksgiving
When you get married, and start your own family (or even if you are single and on your own) you get to decide how you will be celebrating Thanksgiving. You may have expectations to attend a huge dinner with all your extended family, but just because the expectation is there doesn’t mean you have to do it.
Her are some options:
Celebrate Thanksgiving with your nuclear family (that’s you, your spouse, and your kids.) Tell everyone you decided to do your own thing this year. That will be toughest the first time you do it. After a couple of times, it will become normal behavior and you should get less grief from the family.
Take a Vacation. The Thanksgiving holiday often comes with a few days off from work. It’s the perfect time to schedule a vacation since you already have the time off from work. A couple of times we have skipped town on Thanksgiving and used that time to travel. One year we took the Amtrak train to Savannah, Georgia. The hotel we were staying at had a great Thanksgiving buffet, and we spent our holiday exploring this historic city.
Host Thanksgiving and set the rules. Sometimes family history dictates the rules of your Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe someone else always hosts. If they do, they might relish letting someone else have a turn. Maybe you always host but you don’t get any help. This is your chance to have Thanksgiving your way. You can ask people to bring a dish. You could decide you are only cooking the main course and every else has to bring a side dish. Or perhaps you want to cook it all and let your guests enjoy the party. Your house, your rules. Decide how you want to do it and send out the word to the family.
Host Thanksgiving and have no rules. Sometimes rules can help create a more peaceful Thanksgiving dinner, but other times rules get in the way of the fun. Thanksgiving dinner with my parents was always very regimented. Each participant brought a dish, we all sat at the table for dinner, and we all complimented the chef after dinner. The meal was delicious, but the experience was stifling. My wife’s family on the other hand has no rules at Thanksgiving. The family all shows up to her mom’s house whenever they can. The food is set out sometime in the afternoon and everyone helps themselves buffet style. You sit wherever you can find a seat. It’s all very relaxed and enjoyable.
Hand off the hosting duty. Often times in families, one family member has a home better suited to hosting large gatherings. That doesn’t mean that person has to host. We hosted Thanksgiving for 15 family members in our apartment last year. I was worried about fitting everyone it, but we all fit with room to spare. Some hung out in the kitchen, some in the living room, some on the porch and the kids spent time in our daughter’s room and in the living room. Everyone ate wherever they could find a seat. It’s ok to tell that family that you need a break and that someone else can host this year. Also, don’t let guilt force you into hosting. You should host because you want to host and because you enjoy it. If you don’t or if you want to take a break this year, then hand it off and offer your help instead of your hosting.
Eat at a Restaurant. This option is often overlooked due to the expense, but when you add up the cost of all the food and the time spent cooking and cleaning, a restaurant could be a good alternative. Many restaurants have special Thanksgiving menus and buffets. These will typically require a reservation, so plan ahead to make sure you reserve a spot for your family. We did this one year with an aunt and it was a lot of fun. Afterwards we went back to her house for an after party. It was a fun alternative to the typical Thanksgiving dinner.
Simplify the Meal
The first time you host Thanksgiving you might go all out. You are excited, so you plan a bunch of yummy stuff to cook, you put a lot of time, energy, and love into your dinner. A few years later, you find you don’t have the same energy or time. It’s ok to adjust your meal. We’ve run the gamut of Thanksgiving meals in our family. One year we cooked a Turkey and all the sides. A couple of times we ordered ham and turkey breast from Honey Baked Ham. Last year we ordered a dinner in a box from Publix, which included a pre-cooked turkey (that needed to be heated for about 3 hours in the oven) and a number of sides that reheated easily.
Another option is to eat something other than Turkey.
A simple Thanksgiving might mean thinking outside the box. Thanksgiving pizza anyone? (Tweet this)
Cook Less Food
Like everything else in the United States, Thanksgiving dinner is often awash in excess. If you get overwhelmed with cooking or simply don’t enjoy it that much, consider a simple meal of two, three, or four items. A main course and a couple of sides are more than enough.
Consider Alternatives to Brining a Dish
If you aren’t hosting, and aren’t fond of cooking, you may not feel up to cooking sides. Ask the host if there is something else you can bring instead. Maybe some drinks, plates, or utensils.
You could ask if you can help clean up afterwards in lieu of brining a dish. This might be a welcomed offer as the huge task of cleanup is often overlooked.
If you are hosting, consider offering these alternatives to your guests.
I’m not sure of everyone’s stance on alcoholic drinks, but I’ve found it really helps loosen everyone up and create a more relaxed atmosphere. When we hosted last year we mixed some holiday themed drinks. Everyone really enjoyed them and it made things feel more relaxed and enjoyable. If you go this route, please ensure that everyone is responsible and does not drive while intoxicated.
Make it Fun
Above all, Thanksgiving with your family should be enjoyable. If it’s not, then you need to make some changes to make it more fun and enjoyable. That might mean implementing some of the ideas mentioned above. You might also consider adding some music, TV (parades, holiday specials, or football), or playing some favorite holiday movies.
Make sure the kids are entertained. Invite the kids into your kid’s rooms to play. If you have a game system (xbox, playstation, wii) make sure it’s on with some fun multiplayer games. We had a dancing game on the playstation last year and it was a big hit.
If you have an outdoor area, then make it available and welcoming. Set up a few chairs outside so that folks can get some fresh air.
You Control Your Destiny
Finally, remember that you control your life. Do what is best for you and your family. Craft your Thanksgiving experience into whatever you want it to be. If you hate your extended family then don’t spend the holiday with them. If you love being around your extended family then do what you can to get them all together. There is no “right” thing when it comes to Thanksgiving, but there is what is right for you and your family. Do what is right for you and let everyone else decide what is right for them.
What tips do you have to simplify Thanksgiving? We have a lot of folks searching for info like this, so sharing your thoughts in the comments section will be a great benefit to those searching for simplicity during this busy time of year.