I’ve seen more than my fair share of “Holiday Guides”, and rarely do I find any with tips that the average person could use. They offer ridiculous decoration “hints”, “quick and easy” recipes that require a full prep kitchen and a culinary arts degree as well as four hours of your time day of, and countless quips that I think are designed to make us chuckle and sigh because our real-life challenges are much harder than whatever these women are handling.
Here are some do’s and don’ts for this Thanksgiving season, or whatever holiday you’re heading toward. May you feel the solidarity and help that they offer from another real-life person, with a real world family, and a hearty appreciation for gravy and dessert!
(If you aren’t from the US of A, strap in! This will be an interesting peek into true American Thanksgiving, and I’m pretty sure it will sound just like Canadian Thanksgiving/Christmas/your country’s food holiday…)
Don’t spend your day talking, thinking, or worrying about your eating plan. Don’t whisper over the gravy or mumble as you take a second slice of pie about how much you’ll have to run, or how you never do this, or how bad you’re being or how fat you feel. Just don’t. It doesn’t make anyone feel better, or enjoy the experience more, or slow down and savor, or decide not to take seconds. It makes everyone a bit self-conscious around you and makes them sit somewhere else.
Do spend the day enjoying all the love and joy put into all that you eat. Indulge in treats that you rarely eat, and relish them. Be grateful for your stellar eating habits every other day so that on Thanksgiving you can go a little wild. Compliment the amazing chefs in your life, give them credit for making such amazing food without thinking about the caloric content. Take your time. Stop when you’re full. Then invite everyone for a walk around the block. Recruit for an old cronies vs tiny tykes football game. Enjoy activity with your family! Then go sample some more pie…
Don’t let the production value of your holiday stress you out. There are a million different ways that you could let yourself feel inadequate today. Have you ever read typical women’s magazines? I have to laugh every time I open one and see the things that they claim need to be in place in order to successfully celebrate the fact that our ancestors didn’t die. Did you know that some of these articles insist that if you don’t send formal invitations by mail and have place cards printed on personalized cardstock that you aren’t doing it right? Recently when talking with some co-workers I learned that there are people out there who spend the entire day cooking and preparing and decorating and fussing, and don’t actually sit down to eat what they’ve created!? People, if this is you, I am personally inviting you to my house for Thanksgiving next year so you can have a break…
Do take a deep breath. Reset your expectations. Invite other people to work alongside of you. Prep what you can in the living room, with everyone helping out. Delegate tasks in the kitchen so that people can be with you without being in the way. If you absolutely must do everything on your own in the kitchen like the 50’s housewife that you are, take breaks. Pop your head out to watch the parade, refill drinks and stay for the end of the story, stop for five minutes to have a snack and participate with your loved ones. I promise that nothing irreparable will happen in the kitchen while you’re gone, and your family will actually remember you this Thanksgiving. Decide that this year you are going to enjoy this special day for all that it can be. No more martyrs slaying themselves in the name of the turkey and the green bean casserole being done at precisely the same moment.
Don’t let your family’s brand of drama draw you in. Maybe it’s the tryptophan coma, or the heat from the oven, but holidays together tend to bring out the tension in a family and it’s easy to get sucked into gossip, petty conflict, or just thoughts and mindsets that you have decided aren’t helpful. Decide that this year you aren’t going to get bogged down in it!
Do work to make peace, share love, and offer empathy. You know that Great Uncle Elmer is going to complain about unemployment rates, and your little cousin Emily is going to bring her terrible mooching boyfriend, and your brother-in-law is going to talk about money, and someone will talk about politics and the whole place will be about one landmine filled conversation after another. Recognize it now and make a plan. Whether that be a statement that you make like “We don’t agree on this, and that’s ok. How about those Yankees?”, or a retreat plan. Anticipate the challenges and do what you can to plan to be the peacemaker.
Don’t let your plans and vision for the day keep you from enjoying the celebration. We all have expectations for what every new day should contain, what we plan to accomplish and what it would take to make the day perfect. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in those expectations and forget that in lfie there are usually at least a couple of other people who are also operating a set of expectations and plans. No one benefits when controlling personalities battle it out over the carving knife, or what kind of cranberry sauce to serve on Thanksgiving.
Do talk with the other people who are contributing to your event about their expectations. Decide on a few things that are most important for you over the holiday and communicate about them. This celebration is for you, too, so be prepared to work and advocate for the things in the celebration that are important to you. Do everything in your power to make them happen, but be flexible in the timing and execution. Things won’t always happen the way you would make them happen. Dinner might be later than you’d like, the green bean casserole might have too many onions or not enough, there might not be any gravy because it wasn’t the most important thing to you. Find the beauty in what happens, regardless of what you envisioned.
Don’t let the day go by without stopping to actually be grateful. We have created this day that carries so much weight as a family event, a production to showcase your talents and cooking prowess, a day of indulgence, and the kickoff to what is more often the most stressful instead of most wonderful time of the year. This year decide that those things will not distract you from taking this wonderful opportunity to see your life through the eyes of gratitude. Not just the “something you’re thankful for” that your mum demands before you are allowed to eat the delicious spread that’s already on the table waiting to be eaten. You know, trite things like “family” “food” and “my team won x game”. Your life will not change if the deepest you look for what you are truly grateful for is the table in front of you.
Do your best to spend the whole day in gratitude. Let your mind wander to the amazing things that have come to you or been created by you this week or this year. Aside from the positive things that immediately come to mind when you start to be grateful, think about all of the things that seemed challenging but had a positive result, situations that on the face seem completely rubbish, but are producing great strength in you. Be grateful for the people in your life and tell them about it! Tell the people you are eating with exactly why you are thankful that they are part of your circle. Thank them for their contributions to your life and your holiday celebration.
May this year’s celebration be one of less guilt and more enjoyment. Fewer Thanksgiving tchotchkes and more intimate connections. Less conflict and more compassion. Fewer power struggles and more communication and collaboration. Less whirlwind and more mindfulness.
May your day be full to the brim of things to be grateful for, in whatever form they come.
I’m grateful for you!!