Thanksgiving Turkey

I love food, so Thanksgiving is one of my favourite holidays. You get to make (or if you’re lucky, just eat) a big ol’ roast turkey with all of the fixings, without all of the extra stress and pressure that comes with Christmas. It literally is a holiday all about eating — which should be as easy as pie… right?

Wrong. In some ways, because Thanksgiving is less structured and hyped than Christmas, it can actually be harder to navigate because there are fewer hard and fast rules. Are you expected to travel to see your in-laws on Thanksgiving? Do you have to alternate between spending it with your extended family and your spouse’s extended family? Is it okay to just have a quiet turkey dinner at home with your spouse and kids? Can you skip it altogether because you want to protest the whole idea of Thanksgiving? Who knows?

I know the whole “who are we spending Thanksgiving with this year?” question is always controversial in our house — partially because the holiday sneaks up on us and we don’t usually even start thinking about it until the first week of October, and partially because we can never remember who we spent it with the year before. Then there’s the questions of who’s going to cook, how the kids are going to stay entertained while the parents prepare the meal, and if someone is going to say something outrageous while you’re going around the table saying what you’re thankful for. Here’s a list of tips to help you survive this weekend’s holiday:

1. Make it very clear early on who you are planning to spend Thanksgiving with.
It’s a little too late to get this in order this year if you haven’t already, but alleviate family expectations early by starting the “What are we doing for Thanksgiving?” conversation in the summer. Make your intentions very clear, explain why they’re fair (i.e. tell your in-laws that if you’re having Christmas dinner with them you need to have Thanksgiving with your parents) and if you need to use the next Thanksgiving as a negotiating chip, put it in your calendar for next year so you’re sure to stick to your promises.

2. Cooking should be shared, whether you’re cooking at your home or going to someone else’s house.
Thanksgiving is a huge (and often expensive) undertaking, and even if you usually pride yourself on treating guests to a worry-free meal, accept if they offer to bring something or even proactively delegate some dishes. You’ll be happy for it when you realize that you’re not going to be up all night the day before baking three different kinds of pie.

3. Try to empathize with your kids. Or get an older kid to do it for you
You probably remember what it was like to be a kid on Thanksgiving. One parent is busy entertaining guests or watching some kind of televised sport while the other is slaving away in the kitchen. It’s boring. Let them indulge in something fun (watching movies or playing age-appropriate video games in the rec room all day is perfectly acceptable on a holiday, in my book) or slip your sister’s teenage daughter a $20 so that she’ll take off her iPod and play board games or do crafts with the smaller kids all afternoon.

4. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
It’s a holiday. A holiday built around everyone’s desire to eat turkey. Ultimately, not the biggest deal in the world. Whether you’re stressing about cooking the perfect meal or having to put up with relatives you’d rather not see, remind yourself that it’s just one weekend and it’ll be over soon enough. If your soufflé falls flat or your uncle says something offensive at the dinner table, everyone will have forgotten it by Christmas. Just go with the flow.