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It’s All Right to Break Thanksgiving Traditions

When you’re too tired to pull off a big celebration, why not switch things up for you and your loved one?

Smiling woman holding a tray of Thanksgiving turkey.

Traditions can be wonderful at the holidays and it’s okay to break them—especially when you’re overwhelmed. Thanksgiving, of course, is the traditional time to bring family members or friends together over an elaborate meal. It’s marked by days of shopping and cooking (and then hours of cleaning up). When you’re up for it, nothing can be more meaningful or fun. When you’re emotionally and physically drained from life challenges such as caregiving, it can be daunting, to say the least. If the latter describes your present circumstances, why not do something completely—or partially—different that meets your needs?

Give yourself permission to forge new paths while holding to what Thanksgiving means to you. You may want to change up everything, or only one or two traditions. It comes down to finding ways to lighten your load and hold a simple, yet significant, festivity for you and your loved one, as well as for any others you hold dear and want to spend time with on this day. Here are a few ideas to help you celebrate Thanksgiving with fresh eyes:

Tell others what you need. Be clear about your present circumstances and the fact that you need to pare things down this year. This will help your family members and friends to understand what’s going on and can alleviate a lot of your pressure. Clear communication is an important way to avoid hurt feelings and it allows people who care about you to offer their assistance, if they’re so inclined.

Celebrate on another day. If Thursday doesn’t work for you, hold your Thanksgiving on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or the following week.

Ask for a hand. Whether you’re planning to mark Thanksgiving with just your loved one or with a small group, it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. If you’re having other family members or friends over, consider a potluck to take off some of the pressure. If you and your loved one are celebrating alone, you might want to hire someone to clean your house beforehand. It can be a great way to lift your spirits. Maybe someone in the family could drop off groceries. If you need some emotional bolstering, you may want to take part in a caregiver support group in the run-up to the holiday. An in-home care aide could be another boon by taking over your loved one’s care as you shop, spruce up the house, cook—or take a nap.

De-stress the shopping experience. Combing through all the exciting food selections at the grocery store can be a mood-booster when you have time and energy. But when you’re harried, it can simply exacerbate your stress. When another family member or an in-home care aide gives you a breather from caregiving, you can shop easier. Holding a more streamlined Thanksgiving will also make for a shorter shopping list. You can buy prepared dishes or the ingredients to prepare a few of your own favorites.

Streamline the menu. Think of a few dishes that are most special to you and your loved one on Thanksgiving. Maybe you’ll want only side dishes this year or dips and finger foods. You could try a couple of new nutritious dishes like a pasta with hearty fall ingredients or a bean or squash soup, which may be simpler for your loved one to eat.  A smaller dinner menu leaves more room for dessert.

Rest up. When you give yourself permission to simplify plans, the night before the holiday is likely to be far more relaxing. Rather than cooking and washing pots and pans all evening, you might simply want to decompress. You may even consider participating in an in-person or online support group before Thanksgiving. This can be an excellent way to get coping tips and share thoughts about things that may be coming at you too fast, including heavy emotions that tend to go hand-in-hand with the holidays. Expressing your feelings and listening to others in such a forum can help you to feel less alone.

Start the day with quiet time. Give yourself some space. Clear your mind with positive affirmations, meditation, prayer, inspirational reading—whatever bolsters you. Don’t beat yourself up. Reflect on the good things you have done. Thank yourself for the care you give your loved one each day. Focus on what you can do today and what is good about it rather than how it may not measure up to previous years. Think about any people who are actually supporting you.

Use a couple of special decorations. Without expending much effort, you can lift the mood with objects that remind you that this is a special day and hearken back to happier times. It may simply be a beautiful tablecloth or plates. Flowers, gourds, photos of those you love on the table—it doesn’t take a lot to lift the environment.

Cook together. If your loved one is up to it, cooking one or two easy recipes can be a nice way to bring you together. Experiment with a recipe you’ve never tried before, even if it’s something completely different like a chocolate truffle pie or cranberry cake. Or maybe you’ll want to stick to one or two family recipes. You can listen to music, chat and, if you feel like it, play the parade in the background.

Let others do the cooking. If you and your loved one want to include additional people in your plans, take the stress off by asking everyone to bring a favorite dish. A small potluck can be a lovely way to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. Or opt for a restaurant, sit back and enjoy whatever you want to eat.

Give thanks to one another. Name one or two things that you and your loved one appreciate about the other. Be open about your positive feelings. This may be an eye-opening and uplifting new tradition. Raise a toast to one other, whether with wine, sparkling cider, water or even milk.

Savor the moment. Put your feet up and watch Thanksgiving-themed movies. Tell family stories. Write your thoughts and feelings in a gratitude journal or let loose with a sketchpad. Art can be a great release.

Crunch through fall leaves. Take in the vivid colors of the season with a walk around the block. It will refresh you and either stimulate your appetite or allow you to walk off your meal. If your loved one is unable to get around on foot, consider a fall foliage drive.

Have pie in bed the next morning. Pamper yourself the day after with a delicious treat. Reflect on the special day you just had with your loved one. It’s a way to reward yourself before swinging into the caregiving day ahead.

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