Simplifying Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  What’s not to love?  The colorful, fragrant, seasonal harvest foods; the warmth of the oven and stove; a 4-day weekend for many workers; and a big gathering with family and friends.

My mom spent the entire day, and usually a couple of days before, in the kitchen.  After a fancy breakfast, she cooked everyone’s favorite dinner dishes, plus the obligatory turkey and stuffing (and a few dishes that no one seemed to actually like but were apparently family tradition, such as a turnip puree).   Although my brother and I were certainly capable of doing many things in the kitchen, and my grandmother lived with us, no one was given much to do.  At the end of the day, the food was delicious,  we were all thankful, and the kitchen was as sparkling clean as always (a level that has never been achieved in any of my own houses), but Mom was exhausted.

I’ve lived a couple thousand miles away from my parents and brother for a couple of decades, and so I’ve spent most Thanksgivings making my own traditions.  In my first years out of college, I belonged to a cohort of new college grads at a large company, most of whom had also moved long distance.  I announced a potluck Thanksgiving, and it was a fabulous day.  Everyone brought their favorite dish, including several international specialties.  The conversation was fun and the laughs as plentiful as the food.

Since then, I’ve married, we’ve moved a couple times and grown a family, and our potluck Thanksgiving now takes place at our small church.  All church members are invited, though most of them have other plans, and anyone can invite friends as well.  There’s no precleaning, as would be needed in our house. The fellowship hall is ready for guests, every day.

In the morning, I start the turkey in the church oven, turn up the heat, and go home for a couple of hours.  When I go back,  the building is warm and fragrant, and friends begin arriving.  Everyone pitches in to arrange seating and set tables, and, of course, everyone contributes to the meal.  There is no meal plan, other than the turkey.  It always works out to have all the traditional sides, plus a few things new to everyone.  We usually have around 15 guests, often including some visitors from various locations around the world.

We eat, we talk, we play games, we take a walk.   I make a batch of stock from the turkey carcass and put it outside to cool in the chilly November evening.   Everyone helps clean up and we all talk some more.  And then we go home.  There’s no mountain of dishes, no mountain of leftovers.

It is at the same time the simplest and most festive Thanksgiving I can imagine.

What are your Thanksgiving traditions?  Do they give or drain energy? What would you like to do more of, what would you like to change?


2 thoughts on “Simplifying Thanksgiving

  1. I needed to shake things up this year. I’m tired of the Thanksgivibg tradition of killing myself to make meal and then finding out everyone else ignored directions and napped on the couch. I volunteered to work at Memory Care this Thanksgiving, just in the morning. We’ll eat a simpler meal and in the evening visit the residents who didn’t get visitors.


  2. This sounds SO. AMAZING. And I can picture it because you had me to your church for Girl Scouts. Wasn’t I hugely preggo? Anyway, we did my daughter’s bday party this fall at my mother- and father-in-laws’ senior apartment and it.was.amazing. No cleaning, ample parking, bathrooms for all (ours are hard for some less mobile people to access being upstairs and downstairs), plenty of seating, minimal cleanup . . . just enjoyment together.

    This year’s Thanksgiving in particular will be sad with the loss of my mother-in-law, who was the quintessential hostess for most of her life – until just the last few years in a teeny kitchen and with declining cognition she stepped back from hostess-in-chief duties.

    A blessed day of thanks to you!


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