On television, holidays are the best time of the year. But for a lot of us, family gatherings mean stress.
Whether you dread the work or the arguments you just know are coming, hosting a family gathering can be the very opposite of fun.
Never mind having to gush about how thankful we all are.
But there are ways of taking the stress out of Thanksgiving.
Step 1: Know the Stress Points
What are four things that make you dread hosting Thanksgiving? Go on, think about it. We’ll wait.
Chances are, at least one of your stress points is on our list. Because these are among the most common causes of holiday stress for everyone.
And this is important. You’re not alone.
A lot of people hate holiday hosting with good reason.
That said, four major holiday stress points are:
- A bone-crushing workload
- Demands and accommodations
- The inevitable arguments
- Paying for it all
Plan, clean, cook, serve, clean … ugh!
Nearly every holiday hosting article starts with a plan.
There are to-do lists, calendars, mind maps, idea boards, and oh, yes, that overachiever who isn’t hosting anything, but is happy to sell you project management software.
And that’s all before the day even arrives.
No thank you.
When you host Thanksgiving, it’s natural to feel as if you have to do it all personally, and that it has to be perfect.
It’s not only not true — or at least not as true as you might think it is — but it’s also not necessary.
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Forbidden foods and other traps
Cousin Chris is lactose intolerant. Cousin Pat is allergic to green beans. Your grandparents are vegetarians, and one kid won’t eat turkey unless it comes in nugget form and is covered in ketchup.
So, what are you supposed to do? Put together a separate Thanksgiving for everyone?
This can be a tough one, but there are ways around it.
As the family vegetarian with a handful of allergies and deal-breaking “Do Not Likes,” I can (almost) guarantee it.
Whatever you do, don’t bring up…
According to the American Psychological Association, arguments are one of the major causes of holiday stress.
If you’re dreading an argument, chances are, you already know what the topic will be, and who will be locking horns over it.
Whether it’s religion, politics, or someone not living up to a family member’s expectations, there’s always that topic that leaves us thinking “here we go again.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Keeping up with the Joneses, the Smiths, and the neighbors
It’s only natural that you want to lay out an unforgettable spread.
Unfortunately, that can get expensive.
But there are ways of keeping the costs down and still making this Thanksgiving a meal to remember.
Step 2: Build your team
You can’t do it all.
But the good news is, few of us are as alone as we think we are. Even when we’re hosting.
And do you want to know something else?
Most people want to help. Even the people you might think of being particularly unhelpful. Sometimes, especially them.
Almost everyone, regardless of age or ability, can do something.
Helping makes people feel needed and important. It also keeps idle hands busy.
Most importantly, when people contribute to an event, they have a stake in its success.
And it goes without saying that having help makes your job a lot easier.
Instead of sitting down by yourself to plan a holiday extravaganza that will leave you feeling drained, call up your reinforcements.
Step 3: Delegate
Now that you have your team lined up, it’s time to get down to business.
Meet your helpers over coffee, lunch, or have a seat around your kitchen table. Host a Zoom meeting. You can even do it over email.
Now, this part can be difficult for those of us (ahem) who are used to trying to do it all.
Ask your helpers what tasks need to be done. Make a list. No idea is too big, too small, or too silly. If someone mentions it, it goes on the list.
This will accomplish a few things:
- Lets everyone feel heard (sometimes this alone stops problems before they begin)
- Tells you what your guests think is important
- Allows your group to agree on what is most important
- Gives you the chance to put individuals in charge of the things that matter most to them
This is how you do it
Are you worried Auntie A might not be able to eat anything that you prepare?
Do you dread Uncle B’s kids running amok?
Are you wondering how you’ll pick up out-of-towners from the airport and still have time to put the meal together?
Do you shudder at the thought of your sibling’s smart remarks about your holiday decorations?
Does the thought of cleaning up after it all make you want to scream?
That’s what your helpers are for.
Deputize them to assume responsibility for the things that matter most to them.
- Auntie A will bring food for special diets
- Uncle B will provide some kids’ activities
- Cousin C will pick people up from the airport
- Sibling D will be in charge of decorations
- Sibling E will organize the after-meal cleanup
Make sure everyone agrees with the distribution. If they’re taking charge of the things that are important to them, chances are, they’ll do a good job.
Also, allowing others to contribute food and decorations will save you money as well as labor.
And that’s a whole series of worries off your list.
Techniques for Success
The day has arrived. Here are some specific techniques to help things to go more smoothly.
Let it go
A lot of the pressure of hosting Thanksgiving is worrying that things won’t go exactly as planned.
Guess what? They won’t.
Delegating has hopefully reduced your workload. But many of us may worry that our helpers won’t perform their tasks to our specification.
We have a rule in our house: If someone volunteers to do something, they get to do it their way.
It might be hard to let go of control; to take the risk that someone else might make a mess of their job.
But think of it this way. You might not be able to control how someone does their task, but that also means you’re not responsible for it going wrong.
So, are the picky eaters less than pleased with their offerings? Then they should take it up with Auntie A while you have another slice of pie.
Don’t let it flow
If arguments tend to crop up at family gatherings, alcohol may play a part. Even if it’s not a problem for any of your guests, it can still lower inhibitions and loosen tongues.
If you’re serving alcohol, serve the first drinks with your meal. Set out a limited amount, and when it’s gone, it’s time for something else.
And always have a few non-alcoholic options on the table as well.
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Keep it friendly
If you’re worried about arguments, try these techniques to keep conversation friendly.
Focus on areas of agreement. If one of your guests raises a hot topic, don’t take the bait. Instead, circle back to ideas everyone agrees on.
Alternately, have a slightly silly catch phrase that will stop a conversation when things are getting heated, and allow everyone to refocus.
My sister-in-law always says, “Who likes candy canes?”
It’s also helpful to have a phrase that signals the end of the discussion, and an agreement to disagree.
My family says, “I love you, so-and-so” in a cheerful tone.
To us it means “I know we’ll never agree, but I love you anyway. Let’s drop this.”
Make a game of it
If the grown-ups need help acting like grown-ups, turn the tables.
A lot of kids love feeling like the adult in the room. Use that to remind potentially unruly grown-ups of expectations.
A white board (or pen and paper) can act like a swear jar. Deputize one or more of the kids to make a tally mark every time someone wanders into forbidden conversational territory.
That will remind adults to be on their best behavior. It will also encourage kids to be part of the conversation.
Sweeten the pot by offering a prize to adults who behave themselves. Or crown the adult who racks up the most marks the Thanksgiving Turkey and have them collect the dishes.
Handmade for the holidays
You don’t need to take out a loan to set a beautiful table. Handmade decorations can add a personal touch that everyone can appreciate.
Making holiday decorations is a great boredom buster for kids. It can also be a fun activity for adults.
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And, it can save you $$$.
Take a Bite out of Stress
The holidays can be a lot of work, no question. But they don’t have to be something to dread.
The many hands of your helpers can make light work of Thanksgiving. They can also make it a lot more fun.
Featured Image by Atul Choudhary from Pexels