Monday, March 17, 2008

Stress Free Thanksgiving

Throughout history, harvest festivals and thanksgiving celebrations were held by the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Hebrews, the Chinese, and the Egyptians. Centuries later, we still gather with family and friends at this time of year to say a prayer and give thanks for the earth’s bountiful blessings.

Unfortunately, the many hours of slaving in the kitchen, preparing the house for the guests and getting everything organized often makes us tired, agitated and stressed out. By the time the guests arrive, we are too worn down and out of breath to enjoy the holiday and the company of the ones we love.

Thanks Giving

This Thanksgiving, I propose something different.

For many years, the above scenario described most of my Thanksgivings. In fact, every year I drove myself (and everyone else) to exhaustion with my elaborate preparations. Worse, the stress started long before any of the guests showed up at the door.

Each year we invited 23 people, because that’s how many could fit at our formal dining room table. And that’s where the stress started. Who should we invite this year? Who will get their feelings hurt because they weren’t invited? No matter whom we invited, it seemed that someone important always got left out.

After agonizing over those decisions, the invitations then had to be designed and mailed -- another time-consuming and stressful activity. God forbid I should entertain the idea of buying ready-made invitations! No, they had to be custom designed and printed in order to be good enough for my family and friends. And of course the house had to be decorated and spotlessly cleaned.

I always began cooking three days ahead because I insisted on preparing everything from scratch, including the bread and chocolate truffles. For some reason it was not permissible to buy a loaf of the best bread or ready-made dough. Even with all the advance preparations, when Thursday arrived I was up at 5 a.m. and in the kitchen scrambling to get all the food cooked and ready to go. By the time our guests arrived at 5 pm., I was ready to tell them all off and go to sleep.

That’s when the real fun began! Someone needed this drink or that juice, this spice or that seasoning, or some other stupid thing that wasn’t on the table. I ran around in circles trying to be the perfect hostess, and when the guests finally departed, my husband and I cleaned for 24 hours.

When it was all over, the only thing I was thankful for was that I didn’t have to do it again for another 12 months!

A Baja Thanksgiving

This went on for many years, until after one particularly hectic Thanksgiving feast my husband announced that he had had enough. “From now on,” he proclaimed, “we will no longer be in town for Thanksgiving. Instead, we will celebrate this wonderful holiday somewhere outside of the country.” (That way, I would not get any ideas.)

Being an obedient wife, I obliged. My husband took the matter into his hands and we now spend every Thanksgiving weekend in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Some years our parents and friends join us; other years it’s just the six of us. We eat whole grilled fish instead of turkey, and everyone has a grand, stress-free time.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you ditch your family and friends and run away to Mexico. But ladies, please, the time has come to stop stressing ourselves out over this or any other holiday.

If you insist on staying home and cooking, make it easy on yourself. If you haven’t already heard, many grocery stores offer whole complete Thanksgiving dinners ready to go. You simply tell them how many people you need to feed and they do all the cooking for you. All you have to do is drive to the store and pick everything up on Thanksgiving Day.

If you still want to cook, don’t be afraid to cut a few corners. Buy the loaf of bread at your local bakery. No one will notice that you didn’t make it yourself. Use Pepperidge Farm ready-made stuffing and cranberry sauce in a can. If you’re making the turkey, marinate it ahead of time and place it in the fridge. Try to do as much as possible in advance so that you have nothing to do except put things in the oven on the actual day. That way, you can spend more time decorating your feast than actually cooking it.

Before your guests arrive, take a nap for 20 minutes, followed by a hot shower. Do your make up, hair and nails, and please remember why everyone is coming over. This is a holiday in which we give thanks for the things we have and the people around us. Let’s enjoy our family and friends and look forward to the next year.


This “laid-back” approach may not appeal to anyone younger than 40. (Like I said in my last article, wisdom comes slowly.) But if you’re looking for a more joyful and less stressful Thanksgiving holiday, it just might work for you.

Cheers, Yana

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