Let’s Talk Turkey and How to Deal with the Holidays
While many people look forward to the holiday season and spending time with family and friends, others are likely experiencing a bit of dread. Along with cherished traditions like feasting on an elaborate meal and indulging in too much pie, the holidays can be a time of high expectations (especially if you’re hosting), uncomfortable family reunions, and seemingly inevitable conversations that escalate into arguments.
To help you survive and perhaps actually enjoy the season, this guide provides simple tips on creating more balance and curbing your stress levels.
Start by reflecting on the true meaning of the season—gratitude. While the sentiment just might induce an eye roll, shifting your mindset from the outset can help set the tone for the big day.
Take a moment to write down things you’re grateful for in your life. It can be your family and your job. It can also be your three cats and the fact that you live across the country from your family and their drama. All points are valid.
If you’re hosting family or friends, first acknowledge that perfection is not realistic. Not everything is in your control, and it's highly likely that something will go wrong. Once you let go of the pressure to organize a flawless feast, you can put your energy into making guests feel welcomed and even having fun.
Survival Tips for No-Stress Holiday Cooking
Pulling off a holiday feast is no easy task, from appetizers to drinks, desserts, and of course, the bird (or ham or a fancy prime rib roast). So, check out this comprehensive prep schedule to make cooking a little easier.
This previous article breaks down the general process, from menu planning in advance to prepping that starts a week out and takes you through the big day. You might be surprised at how much can be made ahead of time so that everything doesn’t collide on the big day.
Here are a few more tips to keep your heart rate in check:
- Delegate, delegate, delegate. You can focus on the main dish and assign sides to guests, whether they bring it fully prepared or cook alongside you. If you’d rather preside over the cooking, write out a list of tasks that others can tackle for you when they inevitably pop into the kitchen and ask if they can help. Have them set the table, snap the green beans, put out the dinner rolls, peel the potatoes, refill ice, and stock appetizers, etc.
- Keep it simple and stick to tried-and-true recipes. While your favorite food blogger might post a spectacular, new holiday recipe that you want to try, consider playing it safe. When you cook familiar dishes, you know the steps and time involved, and have likely already made a few tweaks to optimize the outcome. Run with what you know, and you'll avoid the stress of trying to salvage a dish gone awry.
- Embrace shortcuts and outsourcing. Let go of the notion that every dish must be made by you and made from scratch. Box stuffing? Everyone loves it for a reason and you can even jazz it up if you feel inclined. Canned cranberry sauce? Absolutely. You can also buy pies from your favorite local bakery or have guests bring desserts. If something isn’t your strong suit or stresses you out, find the shortcut.
- Don’t forget self-care. Try to prioritize getting a good night’s sleep in the days leading up to the big get-together. When the cooking commences, crank up your favorite tunes. Incorporate taking breaks from cooking so you can socialize or just go and take a few deep breaths in a dark room. And be sure to set firm, healthy boundaries with aunties who tend to meddle in your cooking or kiddos who want to use your kitchen island as a race track.
Once the meal is over, continue to delegate when it comes to cleaning. If a guest or two gets up and starts collecting everyone’s plates, resist the urge to join them or take over. Ask everyone willing to help out while you remain seated, preferably with your feet kicked up. You deserve it!
Survival Tips for the Non-Food Portion of the Holidays
Whether you’re the host or a guest, the meal is just one element of holiday gatherings. Making it memorable for all the right reasons might take a little finesse and perhaps, a lot of patience.
If you’re a guest, keep these etiquette tips in mind:
- Let your host know about food allergies or dietary restrictions. As soon as you’re invited, be sure to get in touch and discuss their menu plans. If they are willing to adjust to meet your needs, great! Otherwise, offer to contribute a dish to the menu that will work for your diet.
- Don’t show up empty-handed. Even if you’re going to your parents’ house, ask ahead of time if you can prepare a side or appetizer, maybe bring a pie. If the answer is no, still bring a bottle of wine, a scented candle, or fresh fruit. If you bring flowers, make sure they're already in a vase—a bouquet is more work for your host!
- Make yourself useful. Ask whoever is cooking if they need a hand, but otherwise, take initiative. Corral the kids and keep them out of the kitchen. Refill drinks and appetizers. Help clean and do dishes. Take out the trash, or volunteer to run to the store if anything last-minute is needed (and you haven’t been drinking).
And it goes without saying that guests and hosts should also follow these tips:
- Keep your drinking in check. Pace yourself or simply skip the booze altogether. It’s the easiest way to avoid saying or doing something embarrassing or getting yourself uninvited next year. If you do drink, trade off with a full glass of water and make sure you eat something, too.
- Avoid talking about polarizing topics. To avoid conflict, skip discussing things like politics and try to redirect others’ comments to less controversial topics like movies, pets, or even the weather. If you can’t deflect, politely excuse yourself. It can be as easy as saying, “Sorry, I need to go check on something in the kitchen.”
- Spend quality time with the people you love. While there can be a lot of stress involved during the holidays, it’s also a time to reconnect with family and friends. Take photos. Reminisce and make new memories. Catch up with friends and family if you don’t live in the same city. Focus on the good.
Survival Tips If You Want to Opt-Out of Get-Togethers
Prioritizing your well-being is completely acceptable, as well as crucial for enjoying the holidays in a way that’s fulfilling for you. While easier said than done, don’t let guilt or a sense of obligation stand in the way of your needs. If you can’t do a big (or small) gathering, saying “no” is perfectly fine.
However, say no as soon as possible and communicate clearly that you are not going to attend. A “maybe” or “I’ll try to be there” is no help to a host trying to plan a menu for a crowd. More tips:
- Thank them for the invitation but be firm about your decision.
- There’s no need to over-explain. Keep it short and to the point.
- Suggest an alternative to your host such as brunch another day.
- Make it about you, not them or anyone else. Use “I” statements.
- Consider sending a gift such as flowers, just to show you care.
Finally, if you’ve been kind and considerate, try not to take a poor response personally. Your feelings are just as important as their feelings, and you’re not responsible for their happiness. Plus, there's always next year!