The most essential Thanksgiving tips are the ones that help reduce your stress, allowing you to enjoy the holiday and appreciate your family. Your primary sources of stress will depend on your situation of course. And, If you’re hosting for the first time, you might feel overwhelmed by all the cooking. Moreover, if your family tends to argue, you might feel anxious about the coming conflicts.
Whatever your stress triggers are, it’s important to recognize them and find ways to deal with them in advance. Though you might not be able to remove 100% of the stress, you can at least make it more manageable. With proper preparation, you can make your family gathering into a loving event and a happy memory.
Write down a game plan
Writing down your worries is the first step to solving them. With that in mind, take 20-30 minutes to brainstorm everything that needs to be done, as well as anything that concerns you about the day. For instance, what dishes will need to be made? What time will you start eating? Who will be coming, and where will they be staying?
If family get-togethers tend to be stressful because of conflicts or irritations that always happen, feel free to write those down, too. Try to identify the core problem, then start to think of possible solutions. Instead of despairing about your family’s drama, find ways to either prevent it or minimize its effect on your mood.
Stock up on supplies
Running out of a key ingredient or item, such as toilet paper, is a sure way to make your Thanksgiving more stressful. You can save yourself from this stress by taking inventory of the needed ingredients and supplies before your final shopping trip.
If you’re unsure whether you need more of something, go ahead and get more. It’s better to have too much than too little when you’re hosting an event.
Prep the food
Experienced cooks know that Thanksgiving starts well before the holiday itself. Preparing certain dishes in advance is both smart and necessary for your sanity, as there’s already so much to do on Thanksgiving. A lot of dishes freeze wonderfully, and for the rest, try to get as much done as you can the day before.
If you’re hosting, remember that you don’t have to make everything. Delegating some of the dishes is an easy way to lighten your stress levels. Similarly, you don’t have to make every Thanksgiving dish. Choose the dishes everyone loves the most and eliminate the rest.
If you’re not hosting, offer to help. If you’re bad at cooking, offer to bring something else, like drinks or games for the kids. You can also offer to set the table, do the dishes, or clean up afterward. If nothing else, be sure to show plenty of thanks and appreciation of the meal that’s been made for you.
Consider limiting alcohol or going alcohol-free
In many families, alcohol is a common part of holiday festivities. However, drinking can also lead to problems and conflicts, which stress out the holiday. This is especially true if your family (or one particular family member) struggles with moderation.
If alcohol has contributed to problems in the past, consider putting a cap on how much is served, serving it later in the day, or not serving it at all. If you expect pushback from this decision, make sure to announce it ahead of time, so it doesn’t come as a surprise. Though it can be a hard conversation to start, it can be a big step towards creating a warm and loving family gathering.
Provide entertainment, especially for kids
Family get-togethers, including Thanksgiving, can feel awkward or boring for some family members. While kids and teenagers are the most prone to boredom, adults are also more likely to enjoy a family event if there’s something fun to watch or do.
Board games and playing cards are an excellent place to begin, plus coloring books and toys for the toddlers. If you have a yard, it’s always a good idea to have a football on hand. TV and movies are often a hit, too, as long as they’re in a different room, so they don’t disturb anyone who doesn’t want to watch.
Finally, consider putting out some family photo albums. If nothing else, it’ll give the older folks something nostalgic to look through and talk about.
Guide the conversation
Another reason why family meals can be uncomfortable is that the conversation sometimes veers into conflictual topics. Perhaps your family has differing political or religious views, or maybe some rivalries show themselves through passive aggressive comments. Whatever issues or irritations plague your family, they can crop up during Thanksgiving conversations.
If you’re concerned that these conflicts and uncomfortable conversations will happen (again), take hold of the situation by making ground rules or guiding the conversation as the host.
For example, if political conversations are a problem, you can lay down a “No Politics” rule from the beginning. Afraid of awkward silences? Try writing fun questions on cards, which can be pulled from a jar or box.
You can find a lot of great conversation starters online, like these. This way, the conversation will go in the right direction, toward shared happiness and relaxation rather than anger and stress.
Most importantly, have a Happy Thanksgiving!