If you are hosting Thanksgiving this year you’re probably beginning to feel those creeping tendrils of holiday stress. Your inbox and Facebook feed have likely been inundated with recipes, tips, and places to order catering.
As someone who regularly hosts Thanksgiving — and you should have seen what happened when I suggested we skip putting marshmallows on the sweet potatoes this year — I’ve amassed a bunch of survival tips for a low(er) stress holiday experience.
Maintain perspective. It is just one day and one meal. Almost every single Jewish holiday involves one or more large celebratory meal. (So you’ve got this!) And when it comes to Thanksgiving, there is no Jewish ritual involved, which means no tension over preferences, beliefs, or traditions. (Just politics, but more on that later.)
Find out about any dietary restrictions, a.k.a., don’t kill anyone at the dinner table. Find out if anyone attending has any severe food allergies, has become vegetarian or vegan, or is avoiding gluten. But….
Don’t go crazy bending over backward. If someone has a life-threatening allergy, it is probably best to avoid serving anything with that allergen at the dinner table. Otherwise, make peace with the fact that not everyone has to be able to eat everything on the table. Just make sure that there are enough options so that no one walks away hungry.
Give in to picky eaters. Whether your kids eat everything or survive on some combination of white carbs and air, Thanksgiving isn’t the day to take a hard and fast position on this issue. Make sure there are one or two items on the table that will appeal to even the pickiest of eaters. Because hangry kids are no fun at all. I compromise by making a big batch of sweet and sour meatballs and serving a bowl full of plain pasta. Chicken nuggets and frozen fries work, too. Your call. Also…
Serve something chocolate for dessert. Pumpkin pie, apple pie, and pecan pie are all delicious. But the younger guests at your table (and some of the older ones, too) may not be into fruit- or nut-related desserts — assuming you can even serve nuts in the first place. Even brownies from a mix works. Because, chocolate.
Create a “no-fly zone,” or as we like to call it, “Don’t discuss DNR’s over dinner.” It is OK to decide that certain topics are just off limits for discussion — whether they are politics (good luck with that), global warming, or little Avi’s speech therapy. All you need to do is discuss this with your partner or co-conspirator (any friend or family member will do) and stick to your guns. Politely, of course.
Have an activity. Bored kids are whiny kids, and, on occasion house-trashing kids. it is never too early or too late to create a Thanksgiving family tradition. Pick an activity that will get mostly everyone involved. Whether it is a touch football game, a cutthroat game of Sorry! or a rousing Just Dance tournament on the XBox, it keeps the kids — and some of the grown-ups — busy and can become something else to look forward to every year.
Set parameters. Pick a set time for guests to arrive. I find that having guests slowly arrive throughout the day just adds to the chaos and detracts from my ability to dictatorially, sweetly ask for help from my partner and progeny. If a louder, more convivial atmosphere works for you, go right ahead. But it is also OK to set some boundaries. There will be plenty of time to hang out later in the day.
Your house, your rules. If you don’t allow food upstairs/in your basement/on the sofa, it is OK to communicate that to your guests. And the TV stays on during the football game, dammit. If they don’t like it, well then they can host next year!
Practice self-care. We’re talking Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs here. Make sure that you eat, drink, bathe and/or shower that day. It is also absolutely OK to take a few minutes to hide in your bedroom or have your partner bring you a glass of red wine/scotch/beer/you-name-it at a pre-assigned time. (Mine is right after the guests arrive.) You will be a happier and better person for it, and therefore a better host.
Accept imperfection. Something will inevitably go wrong. The turkey will be dry, or undercooked. Someone will drop/spill/throw something. Or need the Heimlich maneuver (yup, really happened), or barf. Someone will say something rude, enter the “no-fly zone,” or be whiny, ungrateful, or offensive. Just roll with it. (That glass of red wine/scotch/beer/you-name-it goes a long way here.) Because it is about family and togetherness and being grateful after all. And because you are a goddess for hosting. Full stop.
And remember, those leftovers are your God-given right! Anyone who even makes a peep about taking some home doesn’t get invited next year. And here are 21 ways to serve up that God-given right. (Unless you like sending home leftovers, in which case, go right ahead!) At your party, you make the rules.