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Keep Thanksgiving Happy

Monday, November 19, 2012
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Dear Readers,

As I've been known to do on other holidays, I'm taking a break from your questions to provide general advice about things that might be on your mind as you sit around the Thanksgiving table. I like alliteration, and I like categories, so this post will focus on family, food and not freaking out.

Family

Are you bracing for your grandma to ask for the millionth time why you're not dating anyone, or for your uncle to berate your choice of career? Is your stomach in knots just thinking about having to listen to your second cousin's political rants? Take a deep breath. Sit back. Let the turkey digest, and let the crazy just roll off your back.

Everyone has hot button issues that come up every time family gets together, and it's up to you to rise above it. Come up with a stock answer or two: "Thanks, Grandma, I'll be sure to let you know when there's someone to tell you about," or "I'm so glad you're happy being a lawyer, and I look forward to finding the same fulfillment as a teacher." Then, don't engage in the conversation beyond that. Change the subject, change your seat, do whatever necessary to not get entangled. Even if you have good news to share (a pregnancy or engagement or honor at school), you may be dreading answering the same questions over and over (How are you feeling? Have you picked a date? When do I get to call you "doctor?") Again, smile, be polite and move on. 

On the flip side, if you're the one enranged by a recent decision made by your cousin/brother/mother, this isn't the time to bring it up. Hold your tongue — fill your mouth with food if that's the only way to keep from being contentious — and save your criticism for another day. Even if it's the only time you see each other in person, don't bring unpleasantness to the Thanksgiving table. It won't end well, it won't accomplish anything, and it's just not worth it. Exceptions should be made for issues that are actually life or death, but if that's what's at stake, then you shouldn't have waited for Thanksgiving anyway.

Food

If you keep kosher and your family doesn't, or if you're vegetarian and your family isn't, or if you're gluten-free and your family doesn't believe that's a real thing, this may be your pressure point. If you're hosting a bunch of picky eaters, you may be worried about trying to please everyone and dreading the complaints you'll have to field. Whatever the issue, for a holiday that centers so much around food, there are bound to be comments on who is and isn't eating what. 

If you're hosting, don't police what people put in their mouths. In my experience, there is always so much food at Thanksgiving that even if half the guests only eat potatoes, they won't leave hungry.

If you're the one viewed as the difficult eater, come up with a few stock answers, as above, and dig in with confidence. Consider offering to bring something that will round out the meal for you. If you're really concerned, bring a snack in your bag and eat it when no one's looking. If you're a vegetarian at a table full of meat eaters, resist arguing over animal rights and enjoy your Tofurkey in peace. And if the host goes out of the way to make a kosher turkey for you but then serves whipped cream on the pumpkin pie, you'll do best to keep your mouth shut and be gracious for being accommodated to whatever extent you have been.

As much as food may be the centerpiece of the day, it's also really only a sideline to an excuse to bring a group of people together who ostensibly want to enjoy each other's company — so don't let dietary concerns get in the way of more meaningful conversations.

Not Freaking Out

There are lots of reasons why Thanksgiving might throw you into a state of panic. Any of the above could set a person off, as could complicated travel plans, getting all your work done before leaving town or coordinating with multiple sets of family members. Again, it's just not worth it. Your panic won't accomplish anything, and you'll have a better time if you can approach the day with bemusement rather than bemoaning. However you feel about the origins of Thanksgiving, if you're bothering to celebrate it, try to focus on things that actually make you feel thankful. Your family might drive you crazy, but I bet you'd choose being with them over not having anywhere to go. (If not, consider making new traditions for yourself and your friends.) Traffic stinks, but if it's a means to an end, try to take it in stride. Nosy relatives are aggravating, but they provide good stories to share later on.

I don't expect that any of this is new advice, and I doubt I'm saying things you haven't thought of yourself. But if you have to pull your phone out under the table to avoid getting into another argument, this will give you something to read. Remember that all over the country, people are making traditions, making memories and making stuffing, all either trying to get through the day or make each moment last; trying to get home as soon as possible on the next train out, or stretching the holiday vacation until the wee hours of Sunday night. 

Regardless of your own Thanksgiving experience this year, remember that neither the best nor the worst traditions last forever. This might be the first, last or only holiday you have that is exactly like this. That realization itself is something to be thankful for.

Have a very happy holiday and be well,
Miriam

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