Prime Living

Dealing with the ‘BIG’ dinner

By Beth Bond | Nov 16, 2017
Servings of give and take, and a dollop of patience, can go a long way into turning a stressful holiday dinner into a memorable meal.

Ahhh … The aroma of a roasting turkey has filled the house with eager anticipation for Thanksgiving dinner.  Sweet potatoes topped with browned marshmallows are Aunt Betty’s favorite, but Cousin James can’t stand to even look at that concoction, and says so.

Then the green beans come out of the kitchen in a serving dish, with crispy onion bits on top. They hardly make it to the table before Timmy starts picking those pieces off and popping them into his mouth. Aunt Susan complains loudly, “That’s the only part I like, and now they are all gone!”

Mom brings out the cranberry sauce next, but nobody really likes it much –  especially after Aunt Katherine reminds us (again!) of the year the F.D.A. banned them, because they had been tainted by insecticide.

Dad starts carving the turkey, and Grampa Joe bellows, (he hasn’t put in his hearing aid!) “That’s not the right way to carve a bird! I’ve carved more turkeys then you’ve ever seen!”

Amid the fuss, Johnny sits down quickly, rushing in from flag football in the yard, hoping no one will notice that he hasn’t washed his hands. His sister Susie screams, “Eek, you are all sweaty and stinky, I’m not sitting next to you!”

Grandma Sally shakily pours everybody wine, now that she has sampled the “bouquet” at length.  Cousin Harry waits rather impatiently for his tofu/veggie burger to finish grilling, when little Billy cries, “I want a hamburger, too!”

Last to the table is Ralph, who hopes his long hair will hide ear buds, and that his long sleeves will hide the new “tats.”

If this scene, or one like it, brands the “big” dinner at your house, then you are not alone. This annual, crowded feast day is fraught with anxiety, stress and tension.

And we have created this situation ourselves. Relatives from near and far, who may only see each other once or twice a year, are thrust together, with an assortment of your friends and neighbors, crowding into the house. The diversity of ages and backgrounds may interest only a few guests, (and not for too long!)

Now, add the children, boys and girls of all ages, who are excited because there is no school, and probably still sneaking into the stash of Halloween candy, and you are really tempting fate.


Thoughts of that first Thanksgiving come to mind, when the pilgrims sat down with the Indians – people who literally had nothing in common – so perhaps we can still learn to have peace at the table. Let’s be practical, and think about how we can better cope with the big dinners of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Our friends at A.A.R.P. have some ideas to ease the stress. Clinical psychotherapist Deanna Brann explains that we shouldn’t expect family traditions to stay the same every year.

“Parents can’t assume that the traditions they’ve always had are going to continue,” Brann said. “Family dynamics change, your children may now be parents, and young children force change.”

Also, when your adult child marries, there is a whole set of other family members to consider. The extended family may find that alternating the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner between families is more successful.

Brann continues, “Adult children have the right to create their own traditions, and parents need to respect that.”

Many families begin making traditions by delegating small tasks for the youngsters, and each year, as age and ability increase, so does the responsibility. By playing even a small role, children can share in the reward of the dinner celebration, and the accolades that follow.

At the Edmonds Senior Community breakfast last week, tablemates shared their plans and traditions for the big day. Dr. James Tracy, psychologist, author, and motivational speaker, explained that in his extended family the responsibility for the “big” dinner is shared.

“Each invited adult brings their favorite side dish. This brings variety to the table, and relieves the hostess from all the work.”

It seems that you would also be assured of having at least one serving of something you liked. For those who are no longer comfortable in the kitchen, perhaps offering to bring pies from a bakery would be a help, or providing the beverages to be enjoyed.

And finally, for the harried hostess, who worries about who is mad at whom in the family, or who works long hours outside the home, yes, by all means, make a dinner reservation at a nice, local restaurant.  A restaurant will have plenty of seating and a menu for all tastes. No need to feel guilty, times are changing, and no one has to do the dishes! Every family is unique, and this could be your new tradition.


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