Better a bite of dry bread [eaten] in peace than a family feast filled with strife. Better to have a dish of vegetables where there is love than juicy steaks where there is hate. (Proverbs 15:17, 17:1). Holidays are challenging times! Unlike getting together to “watch the big game,” we sit opposite from one another at the table and are forced to have real conversations. For some, Thanksgiving is a hallowed tradition fueled by happy childhood memories. For others, it becomes a source of stress and a dread of having to be around difficult family members.
I would challenge you this week–if your traditions have become too painful, stressful, expensive, or cause arguments and hard feelings among your family–make some modifications that are conducive to PEACE! I knew a family once who hated cranberry sauce, but always opened a can and set it on the table because of tradition. Silly, huh? Well, how many times do we do that same thing but in other ways? Make some new traditions if you must…just make them good, easy, and worthwhile.
Make Thanksgiving a good memory for your family, rather than a dreaded event. Simplify your meal plans if that’s what it takes. You don’t have to serve a 250-item buffet to have a good dinner. Don’t create more stress by spending your whole month’s grocery budget on one meal. If you create an atmosphere of love and fun (and true gratitude) a dish of mac and cheese is as good as turkey and all the trimmings! And a meal eaten at a restaurant is not a crime, if that makes it special for your family–especially for the one who’s otherwise have to do all that cooking. I’ve even wondered before how fun it might be to just have sandwich fixings and just make an event of assembling a big submarine sandwich together…or a taco bar, or making pizzas together. No rule says it has to be about the turkey! Find what makes YOUR family feel thankful…and involved. Get creative about ways to get them around the table with you, rather than scattered into their rooms with their plates and an iPad. To do that, you may have to focus on family more than the food, and that’s really shifting your priorities in a positive way. What does it for your bunch? Singing and music around the piano? Board games? Old photo albums passed back and forth…reminiscent movies on the television…even decorating the Christmas tree together. There is some activity that will be fun that sets a spark of excitement for the years to follow.
Consider splitting the weekend to allow families a chance to linger longer. It’s called Thanksgiving weekend…and yet, we place a mandate on our kids to have to hurriedly eat and run at about 3 or 4 different houses, all on Thursday, to keep from causing hurt feelings. And someone will invariably get pouty…because no one actually shows up hungry when there’s a meal to have to eat every 90 minutes! (Remember the Andy Griffith Show spaghetti episode?) A lot of food gets wasted because families, unlike cows, don’t have two stomachs. Let’s not place unreasonable expectations on our families. It’s really not fair to them, or to us, when we use this holiday to force loyalty to our side of the family. It’s not always possible, but when the holiday can be coordinated to allow a fair amount of time that doesn’t put a damper on things, you be the in-law that makes it easy. I so appreciate my mother-in-law, Thelma Crum, for the way she always did this when she was able to cook. She would do Thanksgiving with our family either on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday afternoon after church, so that her daughters-in-law could spend time with our own parents. I’ll always be grateful for her wisdom in that. People appreciate not having to play the “you love the other side of the family more than you do us” game. Word: a little advance planning can make this time a lot more memorable for all the right reasons. Don’t serve your kids a platter of prove-you-love-me-best…when divorce, marriage, grandkids, and other scenarios change the landscape of your traditions, adjust and you’ll preserve the want-to in your family. I can’t stress this enough–this week is your chance to shine to others as a beacon of being considerate of others’ feelings. If you insist on being the “favorite,” try being the most accommodating and easiest to please. That’ll earn you brownie points like no guilt trip ever could!
If this weekend or Thanksgiving Day is not the very best time, consider scheduling your feast on a non-holiday weekend; even or combining Christmas and Thanksgiving together isn’t even out of the question if it takes the stress and the pressure off everyone involved. When Dana and I wrecked five years ago, we had a combined Thanksgiving/Christmas in early February, an event that was truly marked by the gratitude each of these holidays embodies. If you have a loved one going off to war or fighting a terminal illness, plan the holiday to include him or her and do it sooner rather than later. Look at it this way, you are not anticipating the worst, you are extending your season of thankfulness even longer by spreading out the celebration to capture the most good memories you can.
Create an agreement not to argue! If there are hot-button topics that invariably cause bickering, agree in advance to have those discussions at a later time or not at all. Politics, your son’s eyebrow piercing, and the finer points of church doctrine are probably not good dinner topics. You already know what sets the powder keg off in your house, so man-up or woman-up and choose not to go there. Don’t use the Thanksgiving dinner table as a place to hone your sarcastic one-liners on your family. You don’t look more intelligent than the others when you have a snippy answer…you just look like a jerk! Don’t make them waste their holiday spending it with a jerk! Be nice just this once. It isn’t impossible. Pull your claws in for the sake of your family. If you see a conversation getting a little too toasty, change the subject–or borrow that “par-lay” phrase from Captain Jack Sparrow and call a truce! You’ve got all year to resolve the world’s crises…don’t try to do it today. Enjoy some laughter. (And may I also suggest–refrain from serving alcohol, those of you who normally do on this day. Religious preferences aside, any libation, drug, or substance that causes ANY family member to get violent, moody, temperamental is NOT worth it. Also, if you have some who are recovering substance abusers, don’t wave the bottle in front of them and risk a setback. Make an agreement that no one shows up intoxicated or leaves that way, if for no other reason, the safety and emotional well-being of the children of the household. Please, don’t make this holiday a memory of the parents or older sister getting boozed up and making a scene. )
Finally, please don’t be wasteful. If Thanksgiving means every year you wind up with more leftovers than you can cram into your refrigerator, much of it later raked into the trash can, then it’s time to think outside the box…or in this case, outside the icebox. Don’t cook more than you can eat in a couple days and share. It’s so irresponsible to do so, especially if you’re doing it just to make an impressive display on the table. You already know someone who won’t get enough to eat this week. If inviting that person to your table isn’t safe, practical, or possible, take or send some food to him or her. Double blessing: send some food anonymously! By keeping it low-key, you let God get the glory and you get the joy of being His covert agent of goodwill. Either way, just make sure no one goes hungry on your watch this week, even if all you are able to share is a peanut butter sandwich. This is also a great way to teach your children about the “giving” part of Thanksgiving. Kids love to give things…to allow them to help assemble take-out baggies of sandwiches or leftover pie is sowing some precious values into their young hearts.
I pray all of you will have a truly peaceful, blessed, uncomplicated Thanksgiving holiday this week. May God’s presence be felt in every home, and may you have more than enough. Love, light, and life!