How to Have an Unconventional Thanksgiving
With relative lack of materialism and heaping helpings of gratitude and human connectedness, Thanksgiving is the “poster holiday” for the personal growth industry. Everywhere I turn there are messages from coaches and self-help gurus are reminding us to give thanks.
Nice sentiments, but let’s talk turkey for a minute…
I don’t feel terribly thankful at Thanksgiving. I feel stressed! Thanksgiving is filled with unattainable expectations. Not only is it “my” holiday – meaning I host assorted family and friends that I wish to entertain perfectly – it’s the event that marks the start of many weeks of martha-stewart-inspired holiday frenzy.
Knowing that for many of us Thanksgiving is filled with tension, I’m not here to tell you to be grateful (I did that weeks ago!) Instead I wish to remind you that you have a choice in the matter. Instead of a stress fest, let this be the year you break the mold.
To start, here are 3 ways you can have an unconventional holiday:
Dare to be less than perfect.
If you are hosting this year’s Thanksgiving feast, beware! The need for perfection drives many to the dreadful fate of not enjoying their own party. What’s the point of surrounding yourself with family, friends and food if you cannot enjoy a morsel?
Every year I stress about getting all kinds of complicated dishes on the table simultaneously, hot and beautifully garnished. Never once have I managed to do this. It’s time for me to realize that a simple salad can be beautiful and delicious (and made well ahead) and green beans actually taste better at room temperature.
The first step for overcoming the yoke of perfection is to admit you need help. Then, let others help you! In fact, don’t just wait for outside offers of help: crack the whip and delegate. ASK your nieces and nephews to set the table. ASK Aunt Sally to bring her delicious cornbread.
This is how my husband started frying our turkeys in the backyard – a tradition that lends an air of adventure and danger to our festivities. I’m relieved of a responsibility, and it turns out that this is really fun for him! Oh, and now that the oven’s free, I’m a step closer to my nirvana of simultaneous hot dishes.
News flash! Holiday celebrations are supposed to be fun! Whether you host the day or not, think about what would make the gathering a joyful party. For some this might mean giving thanks and sharing stories of gratitude around the table. For others it’s games and movement – Wii bowling? A walk around the neighborhood after dinner? Others crave stimulating discussion and debate. No matter your leaning, create circumstances that enable your fun.
A friend of mine sets up a Bloody Mary bar on Thanksgiving morning and guests take turns competing to make the best concoction (prizes are given!) Writer Keith Ferrazi suggests seating people close together and even changing seats half way through dinner as a way to encourage genuine connection and conversation.
This year experiment with your party. (Here’s a link to more ideas for hosting an unconventional dinner party.)
Break the rules.
Part of what makes holidays so stressful are the unwritten rules that go along with them. We follow our habitual traditions, roles and conventions without stopping to consider whether these serve us or make us happy.
Your rule breaking may manifest in an unconventional menu: A vegetarian meal or bucking tradition completely … Burritos anyone?
But Thanksgiving is also an opportunity to break the habits and unexamined rules that might be keeping you from feeling your full dose of holiday gratitude. Perhaps this year you delegate cooking duties completely to free yourself from the role of accommodating caretaker for everyone else. Or you might expand your guest list to include a number of your dearest friends, and essentially redefine “family” at your table.
If you tackle your perfectionism, make room for joy and celebration, and boldly question the unwritten rules behind your holiday habits, you might find more honest-to-goodness gratitude creeping in. I guess Thanksgiving is the perfect self help holiday after all!