The first step is to accept the reality: Thanksgiving is stressful. Some people will tell you it is not, or that you should just learn how to chill out, now and in general. And perhaps this is good life advice for us all. Let us aspire to it.
Until we all reach this higher plane, though, I would argue that being just a little on edge this time of year is more than justifiable. On Thanksgiving, you are outnumbered in your own home. Theoretically, you like these people, or at least you are bound to them by blood or obligation.
Still, though: They are invading your house.
While it might not be possible to ensure an entirely peaceful event, it is absolutely possible to take small, reasonable steps to maximize your own happiness and minimize the chances that you will blow up at your mother. These 10 little tips should help.
1. Clear your kitchen counters.
Counter space will almost certainly be at a premium, and you will likely need every last square-inch you can get. Make sure it is ready for you. There is no worse time to discover that you have nowhere to cool the pies than the moment you are taking them out of the oven. You do not want to deal with clutter at a time like this.
2. Make sure your fancy dishes are clean.
Obviously, there will be dishes to wash at the end of the meal. But if you’re planning on bringing out long-unused wine glasses, special-occasion serving dishes, or your great-aunt’s silver flatware that’s been packed in a box for the last six years, you’re going to need to do some cleaning before the big dinner. For reasons I cannot explain, wine glasses get dusty in cabinets. It is one of the greatest mysteries of life.
3. Check that you actually have all the equipment you think you have.
Do you have a roasting pan that is big enough for your turkey? You’re sure you own a meat thermometer, but can you find it? Where is that turkey baster? Take stock of what you’ve got a few days ahead, allowing yourself plenty of time to buy or borrow anything that’s missing.
4. Get people out of your hair.
If you like having help in the kitchen, by all means, rope in your guests. If, however, you quite reasonably find the invasion of your kitchen overwhelming and stressful, then protect yourself and direct the crowd elsewhere. Put drinks in the living room! Serve hors d’oeuvres in the den! Send everyone on a scenic walk to admire the dregs of the foliage. Football is also effective, if that is a thing your family does.
5. Have a plan for the children.
Bored, hungry children are generally unpleasant. This is not a fault — they are children! — but a fact. The trick is to keep them fed, and keep them busy. Low-key art projects, board games, cards, movies, bowls of pre-dinner Cheerios — do what you’ve gotta do here. It is easier to stay calm without the ambient strains of toddlers having meltdowns.
6. Remind yourself that people will be themselves, even on Thanksgiving.
People who are always late will be late. People who are always early will be early. Picky eaters will pick; people who passive-aggressively question your life choices will passive-aggressively question your life choices. There is nothing you can do about any of this. Embrace these annoyances; being mildly annoyed at the people you love is part of the Thanksgiving tradition. Yay!
7. Feel no shame in supplementing with the store-bought items.
If you hate baking pie, do not bake a pie. You know who bakes good pies? Bakers. If mixing flour with butter stresses you out, then by all means just buy a pie. Or outsource a pie! One of your guests probably loves making pies. Enlist them. (The same goes for rolls, cakes, appetizers, etc.)
8. Eat something.
Just because you’ll be having a feast later doesn’t mean you should fast until then. Eat breakfast. Have a snack. The world is bleaker when you are hungry. Don’t fall for it. You deserve an apple — at the very least.
9. Just tell people where to sit.
I mean this literally, although if you’re entertaining a particularly large crowd, or you have more formal aspirations, place cards are fine. People secretly love being told where to sit. If you don’t tell them, they’ll ask you anyway. Also, if there are known internal conflicts in your crowd, this is a good way to diffuse them. It is hard to have awkwardness with someone who is seated at the other end of the table.
10. Remember: This too shall pass.
Thanksgiving lasts a finite period of time by definition. Tomorrow, it will be over. You’ve got this.