How to have a stress-free Thanksgiving


I’m here to let you off the hook.

With all of the natural disasters, political strife and mass shootings, 2017 has been stressful enough. There’s no reason Thanksgiving should fill you with additional dread. This can be the easiest of holidays; all you have to do is eat, drink and be grateful. I’m going to show you how to make that happen.

First, avoid any article or tweet or Facebook post that refers to the holiday as Thankspocalypse or #Stressgiving. There are serious issues in the world, my friends, but Thanksgiving isn’t one of them.

Expect the occasional hiccup. Of course traffic will be bad (enjoy the ride by listening to some great podcasts). Oh no, that lady snagged the last can of cranberry sauce (well, perhaps you could try making your own). Yes, your turkey might be a bit dry (that’s what gravy is for). Hell, one year, we got hit with a blizzard on Thanksgiving and lost power for the entire day. There will always be events you can’t control. As the Brits say, just keep calm and carry on.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time for appreciating family and friends so invite the people you want to see at your table. Open your home to those in need if you can, but there’s no reason to invite 90 people to dinner when half of them will drink too much or start fights over politics.

Present a relatively clean house, but don’t freak out if it’s not spotless. Simply greet guests with a smile, a beverage and a snack to tide them over until the big meal. They’ll appreciate any efforts you’ve made, particularly since visiting your house means they don’t have to host guests at their own.

If you’re visiting a friend or relative’s house for Thanksgiving, be gracious. Don’t point out flaws or instigate arguments. Call in advance and offer your assistance. Be willing to provide items like extra ice, forks or Tupperware. If you’re told to just come as you are, then bring along a small token of your appreciation like a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers.

Alone on Thanksgiving this year? That’s perfectly fine, too. Spend the day eating what you want and relishing the fact that your life is relatively drama-free. Or, volunteer to serve the needy. The best way to count your blessings is to serve those who are struggling.

Speaking of struggles, the holidays are often difficult for those who are ill or caring for sick family members. Others have experienced deep loss (death, jobs, homes, etc.) this year and won’t be in the mood to celebrate. Do invite these folks to your parties; just understand if they take a pass or are unable to muster up much cheer. And if they can’t visit, drop off a pie. Pie is always a comfort.

Some people will have to work on Thanksgiving. When you encounter them during your travels, take a moment to thank them and share your bounty. Leave fresh stacks of magazines in hospital waiting rooms. Drop off boxes of cookies at the local firehouse or police station. Double your server’s tip after a good meal. It’s always nice to be noticed, particularly when you feel invisible.

For my fellow cooks and bakers tackling the Thanksgiving feast, make what you want. Seriously. There is no need to suffer through turkey trauma. Try new recipes or stick to the old tried and true favorites, but dinner is your domain. Cook a turkey — or don’t. Maybe you’re not a fan of the bird or can’t afford one. No worries. Thanksgiving spaghetti is yummy, too. Anyone who demands a specific dish is more than welcome to make it. But if you’re in the kitchen, you’re the boss.

Cooking for people with dietary restrictions? Feel free to have a go at creating something that will suit their palates. Light knows they’ll appreciate your efforts. Or, suggest they bring a dish that everyone can try. No preaching is necessary when a gluten-free or vegetarian dish rocks the taste buds.

Also, serve the food any way you like, be it at a large table or buffet style. And toss any thought of Martha Stewart right out the window. Your table should be laden with good food and surrounded by people you love. It does not need to be Instagram-worthy. Sure, pull out the nice china or the gravy boat you received at your wedding and rarely use. Just don’t freak out if your tablecloth is looking a bit worn or your centerpiece is a bowl of fruit. No one is going to hop on Facebook after dinner and write: “That was the best meal of my life but those place cards were so 1987.” If they are the type who do so, unfriend ’em immediately.

As for technology, have a ban bowl or basket ready. During the meal, no one should be checking their news feeds or searching for the latest football scores. You can connect virtually anytime of the year; on Thanksgiving, you have the opportunity to be with the people you love. Worried that guests will freak about this one-hour restriction? Then up the ante. Anyone who reaches for their phone during dinner must donate $50 to a charity on the spot.

Lastly, ignore all marketing related to Black Friday sales. Black Friday is the day AFTER Thanksgiving, not the day of or the week before. Let’s focus on one holiday at a time, shall we?

As for M and I, we’re having an uncomplicated and stress-free feast for two. Dinner will include turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, biscuits, stuffing, cranberry sauce, deviled eggs, cherries jubilee and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. We’ll watch the Macy’s parade and a couple of holiday movies, eat like kings, then celebrate my 44th birthday, which happens to land on Thanksgiving this year. I will be with the person I love most in the world — along with our feline and canine brood — in our new home. There is much to be grateful for.

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” –G.K. CHESTERTON

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