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No Stress Thanksgiving

Why do we stress over Thanksgiving? Polls show that this is the holiday that more people stress over. Why? I gave it some thought because I’ve stressed over Thanksgiving despite the fact that I can cook a complete traditional holiday feast with ease by myself so it wasn’t the food prep. What are the reasons for Thanksgiving stress?

1. Going for the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving. Everyone aims for the picture perfect family gathering when life—and families—isn't perfect. Holding unrealistic expectations puts undue pressure on yourself.

While it’s fine to put some thought and effort into hosting a great event and find a nice tablecloth, gather enough chairs and such, do so with the joy in preparing for a pleasant time. If you consider all of this a chore, let someone else host. Better to elect someone else who puts some joy into the planning because the feelings that attend the event are more important than the decorations. Martha Stewarts’s own family did not appreciate the stress that went into her perfectionist holiday events. Welcome people with joy, and paper plates and unmatched table linens will not be cause for stress.

Remember that the gathering and the gratitude is the reason for this holiday. The rest is minor and unimportant details. Years from now, people will not remember your perfect table or delicious food. They'll remember how you made them feel. Did they feel good will?

2. Too much to do and trying to do it all yourself. Even the Pilgrims and Indians potlucked it. Allowing everyone to pitch in underscores the “togetherness” and refusing to let people help is a sign that you’re either a control freak or an egotist. Ask the kids to help by making handmade napkin rings or placemats. Nothing elicits family cheer more than children’s creative handiwork that will be a loving memory. So much better than than the antique pewter napkin rings you purchased at a pricey department store.

3. Tying in your self-worth to this event. Women somehow got this idea that being able to host a perfect event is a demonstration of their value as a woman. Throughout the history of man, the woman has been the nurturer of family, the homemaker and the hostess. But times have changed. Women have evolved into beings whose worth lies beyond the kitchen. It’s a meal, people. Feed them something and welcome them with joy. Gather, commune, give thanks. And that will be a Thanksgiving to be cherished.

If anyone, including your mother-in-law, wants to use this event to judge, criticize or belittle you, say a prayer for her. When people criticize others, it is a reflection of their own inferiorities and flaws. Consider that as you hum pleasantly to yourself to tune out all negativity. Don’t try to defend yourself. Those who love you will always focus on your best; those who are weak in character will always try to tear down those around them in a vain attempt to feel better about themselves.

4. Trying to keep up with old-fashioned traditions. Everyone wants to fill the table with grandma’s sweet potato casserole and Aunt Betty’s stuffing. Delegate! But if you can’t, choose which dishes are the most important and go Sandra Lee for the rest. (Sandra Lee is the Food Network star who cooks with half store-bought and half homemade.) This year, I bought some frozen bread roll dough instead of baking from scratch. And—gasp!—pre-made pies. Even though I can bake, I opted to relax a bit more this year (and Claim Jumper offered a great discount.)

I want my kids to remember my homemade goodies, but if I stress, that is what they’ll remember most. Instead of hanging out in the kitchen all day, I’ll be able to play a game with the family or watch football.

5. Worrying about family relationships. You can’t control people. Worrying about who will get along and who won’t is unproductive. It isn’t your job to fix people and it’s too much to ask of any one holiday to heal family rifts. It can happen, but don’t expect it to. Your job is to focus on being warm and welcoming, and it’s up to everyone else to decide what feelings they will exude. Don’t let anyone else’s negativity bring you down. Send out loving energy without any expectation of return. And don’t get drawn into family dramas.

6. Thinking this event can be “ruined.” It can be ruined only if you think it should be perfect. When things go “wrong” is when the best, funniest, most memorable times are had. Dry turkey? Douse it with gravy and tell a joke. Even should family members argue, let it be calmed, forgotten and forgiven when it’s time to serve the pie. If someone should storm out, regroup and move on. Reminisce or ask the elders to tell a story about the family's history.

Thanksgiving is a holiday meant for gathering and giving thanks. It isn’t a time to show-off, hold family counseling sessions, redeem yourself or criticize others. A frozen TV dinner with gummy mashed potatoes and gluey gravy is still something to be thankful for, especially when you consider that so many people around the world have so much less.

So please say a heartfelt prayer of thanks and enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

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