Thanksgiving is our family’s busiest holiday. This year, as last year, we will have an all-time record of 60 people seated for Thanksgiving dinner, with turkey plates, linens, and silver. Yes, 60! While it is a wonderful event, it takes a lot of planning, preparation, and execution, and not just on my part. We are a family of cooks, and enjoy preparing meals together. And there is more than the Thanksgiving meal to prepare, for family starts arriving the weekend before turkey day, and the last ones leave the Sunday after Thanksgiving. In the 30 years we have hosted this holiday, I have learned what to let go and what to keep.
I gave up years ago on trying to match the silver and glassware at each table, although I do prefer that the plates at each table match. And regardless of how much easier it would be to use paper and plastic, having china and linen and cloth napkins is a rule that I have that can’t be broken. In fact, I enjoy the beauty of the tables more than the food. But place cards are totally unnecessary, as I learned the year that I used them and almost had a family revolt! I also learned years ago that I couldn’t do it all by myself, so for many years other family members host different meals, and there is a chore list for set up and clean up with even the youngest cousins helping. The meal is usually the same, with different ones cooking their favorites. Regardless of how soon I start the preparations, I never get finished before people start arriving, so I have become much more comfortable with asking for help, and not worrying about what isn’t done. Whether your crowd is 60 or 6, the principles are the same; plan, prepare, and execute, and accept lots of help from others!
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In planning for traditions, aim for less stress and more joy. While the magnitude of my family’s Thanksgiving results in some stress at times, the joy that is created by all of the family being together for days more than compensates for the stress. You can calculate the stress/joy dynamic for your holidays. Think of the one holiday that you find most stressful, evaluate the specifics of the stress, and consider if there is also enough joy to make it worth the stress. Be brave enough to be honest with yourself. Do not hold onto traditions for the sake of memories or even habit. Change things up and see if you can live with the changes if they result in positive outcomes such as less stress.
Research tells us that when we are gone, our loved ones will remember most the memories and traditions we created. Our traditions do not have to include china, silver, and linen. But if we have it, why not use it? In fact, if we don’t use what we have, we should consider why we are holding on to things.
Being thankful is more about our loved ones and our times together than any tangible object, even turkey plates at Thanksgiving.