"Six Ways to Prevent Thanksgiving Meltdown" or better yet, "How to Give Thanks, Avoid Angst at Thanksgiving." Either title's applicable. Who looks forward to sitting down at the Thanksgiving table, surrounded by squabbling relatives?
I don't excel in the kitchen. No magnificently stuffed, basted and roasted turkey will ever emerge from my seldom-used oven to my gleaming good Lenox serving platter. Unless someone else makes it.
I don't care about the secret to making the perfect pie crust to stuff with pecans and pumpkin. I am not interested in collecting recipes for 12 satisfying side dishes or coming up with the most original sweet potato pie casserole recipe -- or delectable chocolate spice cake recipe either.
I must confess: I am more interested in what goes on around the table rather than what dishes get placed on the table.
That being said, to get in the right frame of mind, you need to "like the people you love." Daunting task. But my friend Paula sent me this link as added reinforcement.
In keeping with that mindset, here are some suggestions for a memorable, enjoyable and richly textured Thanksgiving experience:
Cultivate a Thanksgiving frame of mind before the knot in the stomach grows to epic proportions:
Compose a handwritten note of thanks to a few people who have extended to you the gift of kindness in the past year.
"Fill your car with frozen turkeys and cart them down to a local food bank to be distributed," suggests my friend Joyce. "I do this a couple of days before Thanksgiving. And I stuff boxes there as well. I feel good and it enables the family receiving the food able to celebrate Thanksgiving too."
This year, having grandchildren old enough to wield a marker, I am passing out white cloth napkins and fabric pens. I am instructing each one to draw a picture about family or Thanksgiving. And sign their name and the date. (Willing adults are welcome to participate too.) We will use their new creations at dinner. When done, I will collect them, launder them and haul them out next year for further adornment. (If you aren't too fussy, you could allow everyone to draw on the white tablecloth under which everything on the Thanksgiving table rests. I am not that brave.)
Once around the table, be creative and strategic:
One of my more outrageous friends, whose identity will remain hidden, boldly suggests sitting around the table and recalling "Disasters of Thanksgivings Past." Aunt Connie, slightly more than slightly inebriated, confessing to adultery before her divorce from Uncle Ralph. Grandma burning the turkey to a crisp. Cousin Billy vomiting on the perfectly set table before dinner. Or Willy and his wild sons knocking over the entire Thanksgiving dessert table while tossing a Nerf football over it. With a twinkle in her eye, my friend cautions me that only those with a well-endowed sense of humor and tolerant of some good-natured ribbing should attempt this.
"My family fights over everything," another friend who will remain nameless, admits. "We always need diversion to prevent arguments from flaring up. Because we don't get together over the December holiday season, we make a practice of exchanging gifts at the Thanksgiving table. The person in charge for that year passes out one name to each person a few weeks before Thanksgiving. That person buys a book for the person whose name he received, based on their interests. He wraps it and presents it to the person, along with an explanation of why he picked that particular book for him. It's fun and prevents much dreaded smoldering family resentments to inflame -- at least until the meal is over."
"We used to do family predictions each year," says Lori. "Each person would take a piece of paper and write down every person's name that was present and then add a prediction for the coming year about each of them -- either professionally or personally. My mom collected the lists and tucked them away to be read the following year. And then we would read last year's predictions." Lori pauses. "My mother finally put a stop to it because each year people were predicting I would meet someone and get married. After a few embarrassing years of that not working out, my mother abruptly stopped the prediction tradition." Lori laughs, "Two years later, I met my husband and the predictions re-started!"
"Take a group picture before the food courses commence -- and add it to a collage of group pictures, which get displayed each year. It's hysterical to see how people age," my friend Nina remarks wickedly. "And great motivation for pre-Thanksgiving dieting."
"It's tried, true and trite but what can it hurt? Go around the table and ask each person to talk BRIEFLY about one thing they are grateful/thankful for," suggests Gail. "With technology surrounding us, we often save it for Skype or Face time with relatives celebrating elsewhere."
Remember the disconcerting scene from the movie, "Avalon," directed by Barry Levinson? One brother yells at the other, "You cut the turkey without me." A long lasting feud is born. Remember the quote written by Oscar Wilde? "After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations."
Let's face it. We wait to cut the turkey until all guests have arrived. We make sure the food is delectable. Still, there can be folks seated around our Thanksgiving table that we just can't stand. How do we get through the meal without a major meltdown? Knife fight? Or hair-pulling ruckus?
Here's a few suggestions from me -- a self-proclaimed know-it-all -- who sports absolutely no professional qualifications:
Lower your expectations
Dwell on the positive
Don't look for a slight -- or you'll be sure to find one
Listen more than talk
Avoid expounding on religion, Obamacare and Donald Trump.
And if things start heating up, pop open another bottle of white wine and slug away
And when the meal's been digested, the leftovers stowed away and the next day dawns, what then? My friend Joyce has a suggestion to cap off the festivities. "The women in our family take the hostess out for high tea the day after our dinner. No men allowed. Following that, we shop and shop and shop all the sales at our favorite mall stores."
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