10 Tips for a Calm Thanksgiving

Food magazines may tell a different story, but striving for perfection on Thanksgiving is only bound to stress you out. Before your holiday planning begins, take a moment to discard high expectations, and focus instead on what a happy Thanksgiving Day looks and feels like to you.
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Laura Gaskill, Houzz Contributor

This Thanksgiving, learn to embrace imperfection for a less stressful and more meaningful holiday. Whether it's setting a simple table and preparing dishes ahead or finding mindful moments throughout a busy day of cooking and socializing, these 10 ideas should help make your Thanksgiving more relaxed. Now that's something to be grateful for!

1. Let go of perfection. Food magazines may tell a different story, but striving for perfection on Thanksgiving is only bound to stress you out. Before your holiday planning begins in earnest, take a moment to discard too-high expectations, and focus instead on what a happy Thanksgiving Day would really look and feel like to you.

This can involve a messy kitchen, tried-and-true dishes, loud and boisterous good times with family, shared thanks, an afternoon walk in the fallen leaves, and someone pitching in to help with the dishes. Think of your own top-five favorite things about Thanksgiving and be sure to include them in your celebration.

2. Set a simple table (and set it early). If you love pulling out the heirloom china and linens for Thanksgiving, honor your tradition but give yourself enough time to get everything just right without feeling rushed. Doing it the evening before is ideal. And what if you're not that interested in setting an elaborate table? Give yourself permission to keep it basic. Everyday white dishes, clear glasses (or even jam jars) and cloth napkins let the abundance of the Thanksgiving meal take center stage.

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3. Prepare as much as possible ahead of time. Lots of traditional Thanksgiving dishes can be prepared the day before, if not earlier. Take advantage of this fact and make a dish or two ahead. Ready-to-serve food in the fridge is like money in the bank. Even if you have only half an hour the day before to devote to prep, you could wash and chop the veggies, saving time (and precious counter space) on Thanksgiving.

4. Enjoy a moment to yourself before guests arrive. Remember, when you are relaxed and happy, your guests will be too. So light a fire (or some candles), put on music, get dressed and pour yourself a little glass of wine or cup of tea. Savor the stillness before the storm of cooking, family and friends descends upon your house.

5. Set up a drinks station outside the kitchen. The living room or a spacious foyer would make the ideal spot for a beverage station -- it's out of the way of the cooking and easy for guests to find as they come in. Keep beer, white wine and bubbly chilled in a cooler, drinks for kids in a bucket of ice, and glassware and other beverages on a tray.

6. Stick with easy appetizers. Aside from the fact that you want your guests to save room for the main event, offering simple appetizers, like roasted nuts or a cheese plate, will make your life much easier. On the day of, be sure to put the snacks someplace away from the cooking to cut down on kitchen traffic.

7. Take mindful breaks throughout the day. Use a repetitive task -- like washing dishes, answering the door or opening the fridge -- as your cue to breathe in deeply. Exhale, loosen your shoulders, relax and move on. By taking many of these tiny pauses during a busy day like Thanksgiving, you may feel calmer and more aware of the simple pleasures that are there to enjoy, even amid the chaos: the scent of the turkey roasting in the oven, the autumn leaves swirling outside the window, the sounds of lively conversation and laughter.

8. Pick your favorite cooking tasks and accept help for the rest. Whether you love to bake, make a killer gravy or always do the green beans, claim your preferred dishes and farm out the others. Invite family and friends to contribute something and don't worry about picking up a few store-bought items to fill in gaps.

9. Get folks out of the house while the turkey cooks. As the kitchen fills with wonderful aromas and the kids (big or little) get antsy, encourage a group to go outdoors for a bit of fresh air. Sure, some will want to stay in and watch sports on TV, but for the rest, a brisk walk or a game of touch football can be just what's needed before a big meal. This can also be a good time to give children the task of creating decorations for the table: Collected leaves make beautiful place cards when written with a metallic pen.

10. Pause before digging in. Say a special grace, read a poem or ask everyone at the table to share something they're thankful for this year -- whatever you choose, pausing before the meal is part of what makes Thanksgiving special.

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