So, the Thanksgiving festivities are on the way and you’re mingling about trying to be a good host, making sure that everyone is feeling welcome and comfortable–parents, siblings, in-laws, a few friends and neighbors you invited. Suddenly you look across the room and spot an unwelcome visitor, the same one who showed up at your perfectly planned holiday last year and wreaked havoc. That’s right, Mr. Stress himself, all decked out in his finest, lurking in the shadows and waiting for his cue to rain on your parade. Your heart sinks. Who on earth invited him?
Well, it just so happens he could have come in with any number of your friends or relatives–perhaps that aunt who, even though you tell her every year a bottle of wine is perfectly fine, always insists on bringing that special dish that nobody likes but everybody has to eat anyway, or maybe it’s your brother-in-law who goes around pushing everyone’s buttons–and oh, he’s here for the entire weekend. Then there’s your son. You clearly remember telling him to ask first, but he still arrives at the last minute with two of his buddies in tow–and they’re all the size of giants. You don’t want to be a scrooge, but there goes half the turkey!
Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, the Thanksgiving Holiday–a day when we come together with friends and loved ones to relax and give thanks, not just for what we have but for each other as well–can prove to be more stressful than we care to admit, testing the endurance of even the most patient folk.
And this is true not only for the host, but sometimes for guests as well–that new son or daughter-in-law, boyfriend or girlfriend, or invited co-worker. Guests can find themselves caught in the middle of Thanksgiving sagas and dramas that easily spiral out of control from simple things (like fights over the remote, a turkey leg or a wishbone) to really heated debates and brawls that stem from arguments over politics, sports teams or just the re-ignition of old family feuds.
Oh yes, Mr. Stress will show up at your Thanksgiving dinner. You can count on it. And though you may not be able to eradicate his presence altogether, you can minimize the role that he’ll play at your gathering by being prepared and always a few steps ahead.
There’s no way you can do everything yourself, so don’t even try. Brushing away people when they try to offer their assistance, while at the same time complaining at the end of the day that you had to do it all by yourself–you can’t have it both ways. Many hands make the work light, even small hands. And yes, you can enlist your guests as well.
Things don’t have to be perfect. So your cousin Rae-Rae didn’t mash the potatoes quite the way you like them, there’s no need to blow a gasket and call for everybody to get out of your kitchen. She was only trying to help. Believe me, no matter which way you offer up the potatoes–unless they’re burnt to a crisp–they will disappear right along with the rest of the meal. Take heart if it doesn’t look like it came out of Martha Stewart’s kitchen. Your family and guests will still love it and you–and appreciate your effort and hard work.
First-time hosts: Keep it simple. Now is not the time to try and impress your new mother-in-law with your non-existent culinary skills. Unless you’re a naturally great cook with event planning experience under your belt, you’ll probably make a few blunders along the way. No love loss. A lot of people still dread Thanksgiving preparations even after umpteen years of doing it. If this is just your first go at it, grab a good friend or two to help out. Your day will come when you will be able to put forth a Thanksgiving feast just like Mama used to make.
Try to be the most gracious host you can be. It’s sometimes hard I know. Maybe your aunt’s gesture was well intended, even though you had to chow down her questionable casserole made from that very secret recipe. It probably made her feel good just to be a part of things and offer up her contribution–and she may not be the only one you have to make peace with. Thanksgiving conflicts flare up like wild fires in an instant. Though you cannot be everywhere at once, you can do your best to ignore negative comments, steer conversations to otherwise neutral topics when you sense what’s coming (some people are habitual offenders), and basically douse water on any embers you see that can potentially erupt into an altercation.
Don’t come empty-handed. Even though your host insists that you bring just yourself and your appetite, it’s still a nice gesture to bring a non-food item or beverage–wine, flowers, or something that is needed as part of the event, like napkins, forks or even a gift for your host.
Let the host know ahead of time if you have any dietary issues. It can be really stressful to go through all the trouble of fixing a great feast only to realize at the last minute that someone cannot partake because they’re vegan or have specific allergies to items on the menu. Knowing ahead of time can enable your host to consider your diet in the meal planning.
Ask before you invade your host’s kitchen, and space as a whole, as this can be a good way to lose a limb or not get invited back next year. Unless you’re a really good friend of the family and you’re quite certain they’ll be okay with it, don’t go rummaging around in the refrigerator or cupboards, stand around in the kitchen obstructing foot traffic, or begin doing chores you weren’t asked to do.
Overall, I honestly believe that the almost euphoric anticipation we feel towards the Thanksgiving holiday and what it represents is too great–and the time and effort we put into making it the best day possible for our loved ones too precious–to let trivial matters come in and ruin it in mere seconds or minutes, causing us to sometimes forget why we came together in the first place. So this year when you spot Mr. Stress worming his way through your holiday celebrations, don’t grow wary, let him bring it! You’re prepared.
Keep Your Cool! What You Should Know About Stress by Sandy Donovan
How to Survive Your In-Laws: Advice from Hundreds of Married Couples Who Did – Andrea Syrtash, special editor
How to Cook a Turkey: And All the Other Trimmings from the editors of Fine Cooking
Holiday Collection (DVD)