Stuffing happens. Pardon the T-Day pun, but the sentiment rings true. In life, things often get in the way keeping us from experiencing the type of day that we would like. And in the end, Thanksgiving Day is just another day of life.
Because Thanksgiving is a treasured holiday in the lives of most Americans in all stages of life, and because of a human tendency to romanticize Thanksgiving Days gone by, if we’re not careful, we can set the bar of expectations so high for the day and for our families that we’re bound to experience a let down when the reality doesn’t match up to the expectation.
Over the years, I’ve learned some tips that can increase the likelihood of having a truly “Happy Thanksgiving.”
1. Give thanks. With all of the preparations involved in Thanksgiving Day (meals, family, travel, and so on) it’s pretty easy to forget that the holiday was created as a day Americans give thanks to God for their blessings. As Christ-followers, we know that even in the midst of difficult seasons of life, that God is good and that there is always something to thank Him for. So, take at least a few moments and offer up a prayer of thanks to God.
Many families find it meaningful to offer up a prayer of thanksgiving before the big meal. Others go around the table and have people share at least one thing each person is thankful for over the past year. There are many ways that families can bring the “thanksgiving” aspect into their Thanksgiving Day celebrations. So, be creative, but try not to get too complicated, or overbearing.
2. Evaluate your expectations. What are you planning? Why are you planning it? Is it reasonable to expect that you can accomplish what you are planning? There’s nothing wrong with having expectations. Knowing what they are in advance can help you adjust them to be more in line with reality and can help give you more control over your behaviors on Thanksgiving Day.
3. Don’t expect perfection. Remember, as I mentioned before, stuffing happens. There is no such thing as the perfect Thanksgiving Day. Fortunately, perfection isn’t required to experience a truly “happy” Thanksgiving. When something goes awry, your own attitude, and how your respond to the situation will go a long way to determining your “happy” quotient.
4. Involve your family in whatever tasks need to be done. Mom, it might seem like it sometimes, but you really don’t have to do everything yourself. Okay, you’ll probably not ask your 13-year-old son to be in charge of the turkey. But, he can take out the trash, run the vacuum cleaner, or set the dinner table. (Or, if there is any other chore that might include the potential for explosions, he’ll be eager to help. Just kidding. Sort of.)
5. Give yourself some margin to do something that you truly enjoy on Thanksgiving Day. At our home, my wife Jenny loves to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television during the morning. (I’m not a fan.) But, she really enjoys it – and it’s her Thanksgiving Day too, so she gets control of the remote, while I find other things to do.
6. During the Thanksgiving season, find a way to get your family involved in giving. Whether it’s the gift of a pumpkin pie to a shut-in, inviting another family to your Thanksgiving Dinner, raking leaves for the elderly couple down the street, or making a contribution to a local shelter, do something for someone else – something that your family feels good about. The simple act of giving is likely to increase the joy of your own Thanksgiving celebration.
7. Remember, kids will be kids. Let them be kids. Within reason. I remember our extended family gatherings for Thanksgiving Day when I was a kid. It was exciting to get together with all of my cousins. Invariably, we ended up getting ourselves into trouble. I remember my mother taking me aside and asking, “Do you want to go home right now?” Horror of horrors. I wanted to stay and join in on the fun! I can still hear that threat in my head 40 years later.
So, whether you have an extended family gathering planned for Thanksgiving, or just your immediate family, remember that kids are still kids, even on a holiday. If your kids argue the rest of the year, they’ll probably argue on Thanksgiving Day. If your son is prone to meltdowns towards the end of the day because he gets tired, you can expect the same on the holiday.
There’s nothing wrong with talking to your kids about your behavioral expectations for them on Thanksgiving Day beforehand. In fact, it’s a good idea, especially if you are going to be with extended family and if there will be lots of youngsters around. But, be realistic and reasonable. If something does happen where your son or daughter misbehaves, resist the urge to publically reprimand (and possibly humiliate) your child (or yourself). Step away from the crowd with your child and handle any discipline as quietly and privately as possible.
The same concept applies to teens. Many teens just want to get out of the house as quickly as possible to meet and hang out with friends. For some teens, spending a full day with family can seem like a prison sentence. So to avoid the potential “Dad, you are ruining my life” scene around the Thanksgiving dinner table, be proactive and talk about T-Day expectations with your teen ahead of time. It will be much better for both your teen and for you, for example, if you to determine before Thanksgiving Day, that your daughter may (or may not) go out with friends after dinner.
8. Like water off a duck’s back. Okay, it’s almost inevitable, isn’t it? Almost every family has at least one member who loves to stir the pot and push buttons. Your sister-in-law will make that sniping comment about the turkey being too dry, or you mother will criticize your watery gravy, or cousin Gary will (again!) bring up that Thanksgiving nightmare from 10 years ago when your family skeleton jumped out of the closet for all to see. So, just expect that some snarky comment will fly around on Thanksgiving Day. Get ready for it. Then, when it happens, do your best to ignore it, or make light of it. Just shake it off and let it go. These comments are almost always an exercise in fishing. Remember, the fish who gets hooked, is the fish that takes the bait. Don’t’ take the bait.
9. Plan an optional, after-dinner activity. I say optional, because, some (like me) just want to curl up in a recliner, in front of the television (football!) and snooze after the big meal. But, if you are hosting T-Day for a larger group, some may appreciate something to do after dinner. Some may enjoy a group walk around the neighborhood, throwing a football around on the lawn, or some type of board or card game after dinner. The secret to success here is to avoid making a big deal of the optional activities. Don’t offer anything that is too complicated. Oh, and by the way, don’t offer anything where you have to be the person in charge!
Thanksgiving Dinner tips:
Plan ahead if you are preparing the Thanksgiving meal this year. Preparing a big Thanksgiving meal, even if it’s just for your immediate family, is a lot of work! Planning ahead helps to minimize stress on Thanksgiving Day. Less stress = more happy.
– How many people will you be preparing to serve?
– What will be on the menu?
– Simpler can be better. Keep the menu as simple as possible. Don’t overreach on planning too many side dishes or desserts.
– Who will help to prepare the menu items? When will you need them to help?
– What menu items will you ask others to bring, pre-prepared to your home? This is a great way to reduce stress (and expenses) particularly if you are hosting a Thanksgiving Dinner for a large number of people.
– Make out your grocery list, and then do your shopping as far in advance as possible.
– Do you need to buy any utensils or equipment to prepare your menu items?
– Plan which menu items you can prepare in advance (the day before, two days before, etc.) Set a schedule for when you’ll prepare your menu items. Stick with the plan.
– Plan for the use of your stovetop, oven, and microwave on Thanksgiving Day. Stagger preparing menu items throughout day so that you don’t end up with a stressful traffic jam on the stovetop right before dinner.
– Are you trying a new menu item on Thanksgiving Day? Try making it a week or two in advance so you can determine if you really want to serve it on Thanksgiving Day. This practice run will also give you a better idea of how much time and effort will be needed to make the dish on T-Day.
– Cheat. There are a number of good pre-prepared options that can be purchased at local stores that can make your Thanksgiving preparations less stressful. In our area, for example, Costco makes great (and cheap) pies. Local bakeries are great for picking up quality breads, rolls and desserts. Bring some home, and add your own finishing touches, if you’d like, for that “homemade” appeal.
– Make a dinner checklist – and then check it off as you go along. Make a list including all your menu items, your serving dishes, utensils, condiments, salt and pepper, etc. Then, as you get ready to serve dinner, you’ll be able to tell what you’ve forgotten to set out. (And, if you are like me, you will forget something… hence the checklist.)
– Plan ahead for clean up. Oh, that the Thanksgiving Day work would be over once dinner is finished! Cleaning up after dinner can be the most tiresome and the most tedious of chores. So, ask family members in advance to help with the post-dinner clean up. Give specific assignments. As they say, many hands make light work.
May you truly have a happy Thanksgiving!
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
…always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:21
You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 2 Corinthians 9:11
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. Psalm 136:1