6 highly effective strategies for the best Thanksgiving ever

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. A feast of turkey and fixings and getting together with family — it’s like Christmas without the presents, and that’s the best part! No frantic treks to the mall to find meaningful gifts for loved ones. No schlepping around bags of presents, hoping you didn’t forget anyone. For me, it’s all about food, family, and celebration, so the pressure is off.

But some people find that the holidays are stressful or never quite live up to expectations. Family gatherings can bring long-simmering tensions to the surface, and instead of Norman Rockwell you get Norman Lear (All in the Family for those of us old enough to remember). So here are a few tips for creating your best Thanksgiving ever:

Relax: Focus on what’s important, not the sweet potatoes. Don’t sweat the small stuff. No one cares if the gravy isn’t at chef-grade viscosity. One of my favorite holiday memories — one my family still gets a chuckle out of — is the year I was helping my mom make the gravy, and instead of adding corn starch as directed, I added baking soda. Voilà, a volcano-like eruption ensued on the stove and I was banned from gravy patrol for a year.

Pitch in: Wherever you are, help out your hosts. Preparing a Thanksgiving dinner is a big undertaking, especially for larger families. Be attuned to the needs of your hosts, especially right before and after the meal. Pitch in with the cleanup; the sooner you get done, the sooner the pumpkin pies come out. Offer to bring something to contribute to the feast.

Engage: Get beyond the superficial and truly take an interest in people’s lives. One of the things I love about the holidays is that it’s a chance to talk to people in person. My family is more than three hours away, so these are great opportunities to reconnect. If you have elderly family members, go out of your way to talk to them. A lot of older people have trouble hearing, or have difficulty talking in a room crowded with people and children. Take them to a quieter room and talk to them. You will be surprised what you can learn. 



Share stories: I’m an evangelist for storytelling in families. Our stories are the bonds that hold us together and a gift to the next generation. But all too often we fall into the trap of “we’ll do that next year,” and it never happens. Family holidays are a great time to interview elderly family members about their lives and childhoods. Take a digital recorder, or just take notes. This is a golden opportunity to learn more about your grandparents and loved ones. Don’t miss it; they won’t be around forever.

Find coping strategies: Okay, so your family isn’t the Brady Bunch. If there are people who just get on your nerves, you might want to try playing Dysfunctional Family Bingo. Write a list of what really drives you crazy: For example, Aunt Alice asking you for the 100th time, “When are you going to get married?” or your sister wondering aloud if you’ve gained a few pounds. When the dreaded remarks or events materialize, mark it off on your bingo sheet. It’s best to play this with a trusted partner. The things that annoyed you before will make you laugh now.

Be thankful: I’ve saved the most important for last. Think about the blessings in your life. The ones you take for granted, like waking up every morning and being able to see. Your loved ones, your health, your home. The work you do. I believe a spirit of gratitude is the most important thing we can possess in our lives.

Author Melody Beattie sums it up beautifully: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Linda Abbott is the president of Never Forget Legacies & Tributes, a Middleton firm that works with individuals and businesses to capture and preserve memories in life story and company history books.