Each year our family talks about how this is the year we will simplify the holidays. We make promises that we won’t over-schedule or cook too much food, or buy an excess of gifts. We even swear that this is the year the adults are not going to exchange any gifts. And yet every year, we find ourselves cooking big meals, giving gifts and often feeling busier than ever.

We have good intentions and we do make incremental progress each year toward simplifying. It’s just that some part of us refuses to entirely let go and trust that we will have a special, magical holiday without trying to control and plan every moment of our holiday experience. And we do think that an inability to trust and surrender is at the heart of the matter. We love this time of year and want the holidays to live up to our ideals. Therefore we default to past traditions, ideas, and expectations. Some of our traditions are lovely and some leave us feeling that once again we over did it (our version of “I am not giving you a gift this year” translates to “well, at least not more than three”). We feel spent and and have a nagging feeling that there was a missed opportunity…that somehow the real potential of the holidays (perhaps the feeling of true connection and inner peace) eluded us again.

Over the next few weeks we will be discussing how we can prepare and simplify the holidays. With Thanksgiving around the corner, we’re going to start with a few tips to help simplify your holiday meal.

Five Tips to Simplify Your Holiday Meal

1) Consider non-traditional meals. Thanksgiving does not need to be a fancy turkey dinner. Get creative… try a turkey bolognese with spaghetti, turkey noodle soup or turkey burgers (click here to check out this recipe for turkey sliders.). Or let go of the turkey all together and try something new… (click here for a yummy looking recipe for pumpkin lasagna). You could also ask your family and guests what their favorite part of the meal is… if it’s the turkey, then perhaps you cut down on the number of side dishes you make. If it’s the side dishes like the sweet potatoes and green beans, then lose the turkey and go vegetarian! Perhaps you would rather make the day special by focusing on something other than a feast. Make a simple meal and use the time you would have spent cooking to go on an all day hike, read a book, attend a yoga class, go to the theater, or even the movies.

2) Cater or purchase already prepared food: You don’t need to cater the whole meal (although you may want to), but even ordering parts of the meal such as the soup, the side dishes or dessert can lighten the load. Cook the things you enjoy cooking, and buy the rest. These days local grocery stores have such a wonderful selection of prepared foods, take advantage!

3) Divvy up dishes or have a potluck: Ask each person attending to contribute a dish. It’s a wonderful way to learn about other people’s traditions and perhaps discover a new recipe. This way, people can also bring their special dishes and you don’t need to worry that they won’t have their favorite part of the meal!

4) Use nature as your centerpiece: Don’t feel you need to create an elaborate centerpiece. Decorate with nature such as twigs and branches from outside. Or place a row of apples and gourds or leaves down the center of the table and place a few votives among them. Nature is a wonderful centerpiece. Although not exactly simple, click here to check out the table we created a few years ago for Traditional Home using all natural elements to see how elegant just a few branches in a vase can be…

5) Relax and have fun. Thanksgiving is about spending time with loved ones and giving thanks for what we have, not about hosting the perfect meal. Something may get burned and the kitchen may get messy… it’s all part of the day! Try to enjoy the company of your loved ones and not get too caught up in the meal. Click here to read more about how you can embrace the mess!

If you like this blog, you may also like:
Giving Thanks and Giving Back
An Earth-Friendly Thanksgiving Table