Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How to Make Thanksgiving Happy!

OK you know what tomorrow is! It's a special day here in the US where we gather together with family and friends whom we haven't seen in ages. Time to reconnect. Time to share our gratitude. Time to feast.

Can you sense the excitement? The tightening in your chest as you wonder what aunt Susan's dietary restrictions are going to be this year? The acid rising up into your esophagus as you consider what will happen when your brother Billy sees that you did invite Dad even after he said that he'd rather eat McDonald's than share a meal with "that man". The slight discomfort in your shoulders as you anticipate your mom doing her darnedest to instruct you on the correct application of spice and how finely to mince garlic, reminding you of what great a cook your sister is.

Yes, there's a reason that the gathering is special, that we see people whom we don't see regularly. Sure, we might attribute the frequency of interaction to the geographical distances that separate us from one an other. However, the physical distances are often artifacts of even greater philosophical distances. So we gather together with people with whom we have nearly nothing in common save bloodline, marriage and history. We gather together to share, to love and to give thanks.

Compromised Gratitude
The problem is this: when you wake up every morning feeling a deep sense of gratitude that you live a thousand miles from your folks, you'll probably find yourself saying something like, "Hey, I'd better go check the turkey" as the room's gaze falls on you with your turn to share that for which you're thankful. I mean, what are you going to say? I feel extremely grateful that Thanksgiving is so special (i.e., occurs only once a year.)

Indeed, for many of us, Thanksgiving is the absolute best holiday. Sharing gratitude can be akin to rolling in a 10,000 megawatt happiness amplifier and cranking it to full blast. However, for others, the amplifier can get cross-wired and we end up amplifying the strains and stresses that we take in stride on your average Thursday.

Well it needn't be that way and it doesn't take much to change everything! I know what you're thinking: get out while you can! Make a break before it's too late! And believe it or not, flight is definitely an option, even if Thanksgiving is being held at our house.

Mark K did something akin to this last year. After, he heard that his dad was taking the private jet from Colorado to New Jersey to share Thanksgiving with Mark, his siblings and their families (swinging through Florida to pick up one sister and her family on the way), Mark sent Sasha and the kids to event and then hightailed it to our house in the Berkshires to share Thanksgiving with us. First time I'd seen him on time for anything.

However, there are less drastic measures that one can take to put the happy back into Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm not an advocate of cramming for tests: cramming is the antithesis of learning. However, cramming gratitude can have the effect of spraying ether into the carburetor of an engine that refuses to turn-over. A couple of squirts and the engine springs to life. So, run by Staples as you do your last minute shopping today and pick up a stack of 3x5 index cards. On your way home from the market, stop by the coffee shop for a little "me" time. It's time to create some gratitude crib notes for each person that you anticipate seeing tomorrow.

Pull out a card for each person and write his name at the top of the card (you may want to use color coding either to indicate the person or the degree of dread). Now, for each person, write down something for which you're thankful. Move from card to card until you've created a healthy list for each person. You can do it!

By the way, avoid backhanded thankfulness, e.g., I'm thankful that I don't have to see you every day!

Stop Doing
A lot of Thanksgiving stress is due to overcompensating and trying too hard to make everything perfect. There comes a point where all the little details over which we've slaved will go completely unnoticed. Even seeing this, we struggle on in the fruitless pursuit of perfection.

So, write down all the tasks that you've laid out for yourself through the rest of today and tomorrow and draw a line through half of them. If you've really caught yourself up in making everything perfect, then at least half of what you've outlined for yourself is completely superfluous (if not counter productive). So, forgo that extra-special red wine that you need to drive an hour to get and pick up a couple of bottles of Two-buck Chuck or a 2007 Red Zinfandel (for some reason, they all seem to be good.) Or run back to the supermarket and buy a bunch of prepared salads rather than spending tonight slicing and dicing.

Abandon Tradition
I can't tell you how many people have roasted turkey only on Thanksgiving (and perhaps Christmas). I mean, I literally can't tell you; I have no idea. However, it seems that most people I know don't and therein lies a clue. What's up with spending hours preparing food that no one deigns to eat throughout the year?

A couple of years ago we abandoned tradition and went with: If I could eat anything on Thanksgiving, what would it be? Beyond the obvious answer, sushi, we started coming up with really cool lists. We spent one Thanksgiving sitting around the table with Fondue: a pot of hot oil, a pot of melted cheese, and a pot of molten chocolate. We all stood around the counter cutting meats, vegetables and fruits and then proceeded to cook, dine and converse all at once. It was great.

Other favorite Thanksgiving meals include barbecue ribs, blackened grouper and pasta!

Don't worry about old uncle Sudhir and his traditions, you might actually hear him say the likes of, "I've always hated Turkey!"

Share the Load
It's good to know that if you feel stressed, then others probably feel stressed as well. One of the best ways to de-stress is to do something, anything, to occupy your hands, to focus your mind. So, when someone asks, "Is there anything I can help with?", don't respond with, "Oh, no, I've got everything handled. Please just relax in the living room!"

Your insistance on your guests relaxing may in fact lead to greater stress on their parts. So, forget about stacking that last cord of wood before everyone arrives; leave it for your brothers tomorrow. And all that food prep that you'd planned for tonight after the kids are in bed, forget about it. You'll have plenty of would-be slicers and dicers looking for anything they can do to de-stress tomorrow.

Let it Roll
In the end, you can't make anyone happy. All you can do is the best you can to create a warm and welcoming environment and to roll with whatever happens. A clean house and great food don't even begin to compare to a warm, welcoming and light heart. So, take a deep breath, hold it for a second, and then as you exhale, let all the concern and worry flow out with it.

Let go and let it roll.

Happy Thanksgiving's Eve

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