Short of time travel to transport us back to the first Thanksgiving, how can we enjoy the upcoming holiday without sweating the details? (Although now that I think of it, I bet those pilgrims and native Americans were working quite hard to pull off that first feast---there were turkeys to pluck, giblets to stew and corn to shuck, just for starters.) For us today there are to-do lists the length of our arms--covering everything from food purchasing to prep to household cleaning to making sure we have the right number of plates and silverware. Even writing about it is making my blood pressure rise! How can we keep things simple, so that we can truly enjoy the gifts the day brings? The old Shaker song had it exactly right: Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free. Freedom follows simplicity.
Here are a few tips on finding that simple, freeing balance in your upcoming holiday:
1. First and foremost, remember to give thanks. It's not just about eating or football or pie (though all of these should be enjoyed, of course). As you prepare your home and the food, be thankful for the little things---helping hands, flour to spill, a roof over your head, the cat darting through your feet.
2. Choose quality over quantity. The fanciest restaurants serve the smallest portions. Why? Because their food is made with the finest ingredients. They know their patrons will be satisfied because of the quality of their food. Follow suit. Buy the best, freshest, most organic ingredients you can afford. Of course you want to make sure there is sufficient food, but there's no need to make too much. This will only result in everyone over-eating and consequently feeling uncomfortable for the rest of the evening. It's okay to leave people wanting more. And trust me, they will want more. Here's what I'm talking about: make 2 pies from scratch, rather than buying 4 Mrs. Smith pies, for example. Your guests will be abuzz about how amazing everything was. And you'll ensure that only the turkey is stuffed.
3. Move. One of my most memorable thanksgiving celebrations came when I was a twenty-something and I went to a family friend's home for Thanksgiving. After we ate, the parents gathered around the t.v. to watch a football game. The kids headed outside to play touch football. Guess which group I decided to join? I'm no football player (my husband has that territory covered nowadays) but I knew that sitting on the couch would leave me feeling like a big fat turkey. (Sorry, I couldn't resist!) This year, some of our family is signing up for a local Turkey Trot. If you're not that ambitious, simply invite folks to play a game after dinner that requires more movement than lifting a fork and bringing it to your mouth.
4. Regarding decorations, one or two colorful items will suffice. Let Martha Stewart be Martha Stewart. Keep the decorations natural and simple. Get some seasonal flowers or vegetables and arrange them as a centerpiece. For the past few days, I've had a simple pumpkin and a bowl of clementines as the centerpiece of my dining room table. Their color feels very November to me and they make the table look so festive and cheery. (Plus, they're edible, so we can enjoy them twice!)
One year, my sister made this cute brown wreath and she cut up construction paper to look like leaves. She asked everyone to write down what we were thankful for on a leaf and pin it to the wreath. (Simpler still: don't make a wreath. Just cut out the colorful leaves and scatter them on the coffee table or kitchen counter.) It made for a wonderful conversation piece, as we read what young and old had written.
5. When it comes to family, just breathe. Ah, yes, there will be the usual quirky personalities gathered around the table. Your own included! Make an effort to see what you are grateful for, in each person. Maybe Uncle Rodolfo's tired jokes make everyone roll their eyes, but at least he also puts a smile on everyone's faces, right? Look at each person with eyes of love.
6. Speaking of eyes of love, look for ways to share the blessings you've received with those in need. Soup kitchens and non-profits are swamped on Thanksgiving. You don't need to run out and be one of the crowd. Look for ways to serve and help, year-round. We sponsor two children through Compassion International. A contribution each month ensures that these children have food, education and Christian guidance. Do something on a small scale, if you like---give to the Salvation Army bell-ringer outside the grocery store; buy an extra non-perishable food item for a local food pantry. Give others something to be thankful for.
7. Last, but not least: be. Don't shop. There will be sales on other days. Just be. A recent study indicated that people would rather receive electric shocks than to sit alone quietly with their thoughts for 15 minutes. We are a distracted generation, afraid to just be. We don't know how to do it. We can re-learn to "be", together. It's a matter of being intentional---even if it's just for an hour or two. Put out a basket and ask everyone to put their devices (cell phones, ipads, etc.) in it, at least for the duration of the meal. Try turning off the t.v. and turning toward one another. We'll be rewarded when we experience the gamut of emotions that life has to offer---even boredom, perhaps. To me, this is experiencing the totality of life---in all of its beauty and mundane glory. We'll eat, laugh, move, smile, talk, and eat again.
And for all of this, I am truly thankful.