Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love the coming together of family (whether actual or adopted), the sharing of foods, and the practice of expressing gratitude. Since marrying into a Brazilian family I have also loved seeing the different cultural interpretations that families bring to the table—tropical fruits in place of cranberry sauce, salad instead of green bean casserole (don’t miss that), and Brazilian desserts as well as pumpkin pie.
But for many of us Thanksgiving can also be overwhelming. It is a lot of work to produce so much food. There is a lot of pressure to have it be the perfect day. And that is where I think we need to shift our expectations. For me, the importance of Thanksgiving is in the coming together of people, it is in the sharing of plenty, and it is in the expression of gratitude for all that we have, which feels especially poignant to me this year as we are witnessing so much misery around the world.
As we prepare for Thanksgiving this year, this time of year to give thanks, I wanted to advocate for all of us to be kind to ourselves and to take the stress out of the day, so that we can truly focus on the important aspects of this holiday.
So here are my tips for ways to make Thanksgiving a little more relaxed and pleasurable, so that you can stay present and enjoy the day for what it is meant to be.
- Develop a plan. If the quantity of food and how much you may eat is stressing you out, take a minute to come up with a plan. What foods are the most important to you? Which could you pass on? Will you want to go back for more? If so, what size portions should you take the first time around?
- Don’t feel guilty. If you overindulge, don’t worry. It is one day. It does not have to undermine your long-term health goals. If you get wrapped up in the guilt and regret, you risk sending yourself down a path of giving up for the whole holiday season. Don’t do it! Instead, just look back on the meal with gratitude and happiness and move on. Tomorrow is another day.
- Go for a walk. The walk after the big meal is actually my favorite part of Thanksgiving. I always love the fresh air, the stretching of legs, the jovial conversations. If this isn’t a part of your tradition, try suggesting it this year. I bet you will find there is at least one other person who is eager to join you!
- Make the space for gratitude. Whether it is with the whole group or just quietly to yourself, take a moment to pause and say thanks for all that is before you and for all that has come in the year. It may feel cheesy, but how often do we really take the time to take stock of all we have to be grateful for? It is pretty wonderful when we actually think about it.
- Keep it light. Whether it is politics, religion, or favorite sports teams, if there is a topic of conversation that you know would stress you or others out or cause strife, avoid it. And if someone pushes it, be honest and say, “I know that this is something we should talk about at some point and I want to, but let’s find another time to do that, so that we can really enjoy this day.”
- Have fun! Play a game, listen to great music, have fun conversations. Enjoy the time off and the ability to be present for a day.
- Help out! This is probably the most important one of all. If you are hosting, ask for help! If you are a guest, offer to help and be specific. Maybe it is bringing a dish or two, maybe it is helping to set up, maybe it is cleaning up, in any case make sure that the work is not all on the shoulders of one or a few. This way everyone can enjoy.