• Betsy Fitzpatrick

Tips for Taming the Thanksgiving Table

Just when you’ve retired your Halloween costume and sworn off bite-sized Twix bars, your inbox is stuffed with #BlackFriday deals and #CyberMonday specials. The blogosphere has gone wild with impossibly elaborate tablescape ideas, recipes, and shopping guides. Stores have decked their halls in silver and gold and stocked the aisles with gifts galore. These days, it seems like there is almost no time to prepare for Thanksgiving, a day of gathering with our loved ones in gratitude.

While the holidays are meant to be joyful, they can also a source of stress for many of us juggling careers and relationships. All of a sudden, we have large portions of food to make, dressy parties to attend, cards to personalize, stamp, and send, and shopping lists to tackle in a minimal period of time.

Whether you are hosting this year or traveling to be with friends or family, no Thanksgiving is complete without a hearty helping of diverse personalities fighting over more than just the wishbone. Expectations, resentments, and politics are often shaken up as we interact with each around the dinner table, which can lead to a less than thankful day.

Everyone has a different experience and attachment (or non-attachment) to the holidays, and Thanksgiving is no exception, from how the day should look, feel, and taste like. Sometimes the entire concept of gratitude can go out the window over two people showing up with the cranberry dish. A single remark can escalate into a full-blown argument and everyone is forced to take sides. We forget why we chose to spend the holidays together to begin with.

How do we stay present, focus on being grateful for the food on the table, and truly enjoy spending quality time with one another? Even if we set our sights on a joyous day, what about the rest of the party? Are there ways to establish gentle but firm boundaries and set the tone for a happy Thanksgiving?

If you are hosting, here are some ways to encourage others to focus on the holiday spirit:

- Write a short, individualized note to each person letting them know why you are grateful to have them in your life.

- Set up a small table with a pen, paper, and bowl for people to leave anonymous notes of gratitude or compliments for others.

- Along with your email detailing directions and parking, lay down some loving ground rules. An example may be, “We are so grateful to have each and every one of you in our lives and are thrilled to host this year’s Thanksgiving! In keeping with the holiday spirit, our house is a no-politics and judgement-free zone. We can’t wait to spend the day with you!”

- Late arrivals can cause stress and frustration for you and the rest of your guests. Remind your party-goers to be on time. If you know that Uncle Steven always runs an hour late and may show up in the middle of dinner, let him know in advance how much it means to you to have him visit for Thanksgiving but that you’d appreciate if he could arrive on time.

- If you are in a relationship and one partner is responsible for the cooking, have a conversation now about ways that the other person can help. Hanging up coats, setting the table, being on dish duty, responding to all calls and texts from guests are some ways to balance things out so that you both can enjoy the day.

If you are a guest, find some time before you travel to practice self-care. Stick to your exercise routine or pack your track shoes or yoga mat for the road. If you meditate, even ten minutes to reset your mind can help manage holiday stress. Don’t take on too many dishes and responsibilities. Allow yourself to be perfectly imperfect and let go of the small things. If someone in your group needs to hear that their yams are best you’ve ever had, let them have it, even if they were truly awful. It’s not worth getting in a heated argument over a vegetable.

Whether you are the host or a guest, see if you can find some time to reflect on what you are grateful for and let go of expectations for the perfect holiday. If you begin the day with a grateful heart and remember that even tense situations are only temporary, hopefully everyone will get their version of a wishbone.