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How To Make Your Thanksgiving Holiday Less Stressful


Tips to Make Hosting the Thanksgiving Holiday Less Stressful

BY KAREN L. RANCOURT, Ph.D. “Ask Dr. Gramma Karen”

Preparing for Thanksgiving and hosting the day can be stressful, yet it can be difficult to give up, modify, or change traditions. My readers have shared some of the things they have stopped doing and/or have started doing to reduce their Thanksgiving holiday stress. Good food for thought!

No More Trying to Accommodate Dietary Requirements and Preferences

I have stopped trying to accommodate my mother-in-law’s numerous dietary requirements and preferences – all of which were taking the fun out of my Thanksgiving preparations. For example, garlic and onions make her burp, she doesn’t like chestnuts in her dressing, and she prefers roast pork to turkey. As politely as I could, I asked her to please bring her own dinner this year.

When she seemed a bit insulted about it, I told her that by bringing her own food, we could both be assured that everything she ate would be acceptable to her. I reminded her that when it’s just a small gathering, I try to plan around her, but for a large Thanksgiving dinner full of traditional dishes, many of which are prepared by others, I am not easily able to do so. My husband totally supports me in this and told his mother so.

I Have Decreed There Will Be No Electronic Devices

2014 issue of GRAND Magazine featuring a parody of Norman Rockwell’s famous Thanksgiving painting.

This year, Thanksgiving in my home will be digital-free: no “i-anythings” will be allowed. I am tired of my family working their keyboards and not interacting with each other. My daughter, one of the worst offenders, said, “You’ve got to be kidding!” I assured her I was serious. I have asked my grandchildren to bring board games and other non-digital activities they can do together. My family may not like it, but they can all send me an e-mail or text after Thanksgiving to complain. My house, my rules.

I’ve Put the Grandchildren to Work

Remembering “the kid’s table” for Thanksgiving Photo credit: Paul Quesnell

I have four grandchildren under the age of ten coming to my house for Thanksgiving. Last year, I set up a table for them on which I had light cardboard cut into place-mat size, crayons, magic markers, and stickers. Instead of running around, they worked on making placemats for everyone. They enjoyed being with each other and working on the project together, and they asked to do it again this year.

I Will Not Be Bringing My Mother from Assisted Living

My mother lives nearby in assisted living. For the first time, I am not bringing her to my home for Thanksgiving. There are about 30 of us, and it is noisy and confusing for her. After about 20 minutes or so, she wants to go home. Getting her here, worrying about her, and her wanting to leave after a few minutes is nothing but stressful for me.

This year, I will visit with her early on Thanksgiving morning, and my sister will visit her later in the day. The staff where she lives assures me that my new plan is better because my mother always returns from a big family gathering, agitated and confused. I feel guilty about this, but I realize having her with the whole family is more about my needs than hers.

Assign Everyone a Task

This grandmother (me!) just doesn’t have the energy I used to have (I am 78), so last year, instead of doing everything for Thanksgiving dinner as I have done in the past, I made a list of every task required, e.g., set the table, get the beverage table ready, distribute the hors d’oeuvres, plate the turkey and all the trimmings, clear the dirty dishes, set out the desserts, wrap the leftovers, clean the kitchen, empty the trash, et cetera.

A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, I let everyone know by e-mail their assignment, including the grandchildren. Everyone knew each other’s assignment, so there was some trading of tasks – mainly because some family members did not want their tasks to interfere with the football games on TV.

It worked well, and we’re doing it again this year. I think having everyone responsible for some task makes them more aware of what it takes to bring the family together: the Thanksgiving Day feast is a labor of love, but it still is labor!

Changing How Traditional Dishes Are Prepared


Our Thanksgiving dinner would not be complete without mashed potatoes. My mother and our Italian aunts (all now deceased) would have a fit over this break with tradition, but it saves so much time, and it is more nutritious. I now use red potatoes; I cut them into smaller pieces, leave the skins on, and add several garlic cloves to the water. When the potatoes are tender, I use a masher with milk (I heat milk in the microwave so the potatoes don’t cool), butter, salt, pepper, and chives to taste until I get the consistency I want. This way, it skips all that baloney with an electric mixer, which is just more bowls and stuff to clean. And the little remaining lumps let my guests know that I’ve used real potatoes. Gone are the days of all that ridiculous peeling. When you’re talking 15+ pounds, that’s no small potatoes!

Starting a Totally New Way to Spend Thanksgiving Day

I am entirely breaking with our usual Thanksgiving schedule this year. Between my grown and married children rushing around trying to spend part of the day with their in-laws and their relatives and my trying to work around the grandchildren’s naps, it was becoming a scheduling nightmare for me.

This year, my husband and I are going to a restaurant around noon for our dinner, and anyone can join us. Then, I am having an “open house” through the early evening. Everyone can come and go according to their other commitments. I will provide snacks, fixings for turkey sandwiches, and desserts. My family understands why I am doing this, and they are willing to give it a try. I already feel so relieved!

Note from Dr. Gramma Karen

ThanksgivingMy niece and her husband will be hosting Thanksgiving dinner; we are a group of about 25. I asked them if they would be comfortable with my requesting that everyone take a COVID test before we gather. They have agreed; both are physicians. Free COVID-19 tests are available – Click here 


Karen Rancourt, Ph.D.

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