The in-laws are coming for Thanksgiving.
Maybe it’s the first year you are hosting and you worry that your in-laws will be ambivalent about no longer being the maestros of the family gathering. You can help ease the transition from holidays in the older generation’s home to the holidays in yours by asking in advance if there’s a particular tradition or food that they would like you to include at your celebration. Or, if you are worried that if you ask they will take over, ask them to bring a particular decoration or dish.
Or maybe the in-laws came last year and the dinner did not go smoothly. Figure out what triggered the semi-disaster of last year and try to minimize any potential hazards. If individual food preferences became hard to manage, invite your vegan, vegetarian or “paleo” relative or those with picky children to bring a dish that meets their needs.
If last year you left out Aunt Nancy’s fabulous green bean casserole or if you created a chestnut cranberry dressing which family members did not appreciate, either ask your in-laws to bring the family favorites or ask them to help you cook. Holidays are about tradition; introduce change slowly.
Regardless of the reason you are anxious, there are many ways to make holiday hosting less stressful. If cooking a giant turkey is intimidating, buy either a pre-cooked bird or one that is prepared but just needs to be popped in the oven. Your house will still smell as if you’ve been preparing for hours. No one has to know the turkey’s origins.
If it’s the set-up and clean-up that is driving you nuts, invite your guests to come early and set up the holiday table as you watch the Macy’s parade. Sell it as a family bonding time and share your memories of preparing Thanksgiving with your aunts, uncles and cousins. Or maybe you want to limit contact time, in which case you should invite them when all the preparation is completed.
To avoid the massive pile of dishes after dinner, think of using pretty paper plates and plastic utensils or, if you can afford it, hiring someone to help with clean-up. Or if a niece or nephew is saving up for college, keep the money in the family and offer to pay them to wash dishes or vacuum. Again, you can let people know in advance this year’s Thanksgiving will be a cooperative effort and you will be assigning everyone tasks.
Some hosts place name-cards on the table that also tell guests which course they will help serve and clear. Others avoid restaurant service by setting up a buffet and seating guests in the living room instead of at the table.
Don’t try to measure up to your in-laws. Create an event which reduces your stress. There are many ways to create a warm and loving holiday. Just like a dress must fit to look good, so too your holiday celebration must fit your family’s lifestyle.
If you are a two-parent working family, you don’t have to time to curl the carrots and do everything from scratch. If you have young children, you may need to simplify and shorten the meal. Don’t apologize for not being Martha Stewart. Be gracious and welcoming and give up fantasies of perfection.
Remember, it’s easy to have a flawless two-dimensional picture in a magazine, but impossible in real families.