Every year, my family has about ten different options when it comes to where we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving. And for about six years straight my husband and I celebrated at home. On the fourth Thanksgiving, I started feeling kind of meh – how festive could our day be without hordes of family and friends sitting across the table? The year after that we decided to pack up the kids and celebrate Thanksgiving with family.
Keep in mind these were young kids. A lot of family and friends. And a lot of driving. We left the day before, just like everyone else on the planet, and my husband was super stressed out. We missed our ferry, just making it on to the last one of the night. My daughter, who hardly eats, refused to try anything on the table, and just that once my husband decided to take a stand on the food front. So she had a horrible time and that led to me having a horrible time, and he had a horrible time because I was mad. And of course the baby didn’t nap.
It was, to put it bluntly, a nightmare. Worst Thanksgiving ever. In its wake, I decided I wasn’t going to go anywhere for Thanksgiving until my children were old enough to ask to travel. (And even then I hope they ask to go to Europe, not grandma’s.)
In the meantime, we celebrate Thanksgiving with just the four of us. It’s definitely less stressful, but I’ll admit actually doesn’t feel as festive. So I’ve taken steps to make this most boring of holidays feel more like a big deal. Here are my tips for having Thanksgiving at home with kids without losing that big holiday feeling:
Get the kids involved with the cooking. There are no kitchen martyrs here! I prefer to let the husband do the cooking on Thanksgiving because I’m doing it almost every other day of the year, but since our house is small it ends up being a family affair. Since my daughter hates pretty much all the standard Thanksgiving recipes, her job is to make the Thanksgiving desserts. And while my two year old son is not exactly a whiz in the kitchen he does like to pull up a chair and watch or stir. Kids can also make turkey placemats and place cards or go outside for pretty leaves and twigs for a centerpiece. Make preparing the meal and dressing the table the most interesting part of the day!
Make it a multi-day affair. At our house, “Black Friday” is an official no-spending day because I just can’t stand the frenzy. Instead, that’s the day we put on the Christmas music for the first time, haul all the Christmas decorations out of the attic and start decorating! My daughter loves it and looks forward to it every year. We usually have a party or event to go to with other local moms (and dads) that Saturday and then on Sunday, our town holds its annual Santa Parade. Knowing that all kinds of fun things will be happening – not just a big meal for the grownups and extra dessert for the kids – makes Thanksgiving special.
Decorate, decorate, decorate! Or have the kids do it. I’m not talking about some big Pinterest-worthy Martha Stewart-esque production, unless you’re into that. Let the kids loose with the construction paper and markers and the scissors and the glue stick. See what they come up with. When your house is in the spirit of things, you’re more likely to get into the spirit of things. Set a proper table even if you’re dining in the same old eat-in kitchen. Let your four-year-old drink her chocolate milk out of a champagne glass. Decorate yourself, too. Put on your Sunday best.
Watch the parade. As in the official Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. They’ve been televising it since 1948 for a reason – it’s so worth it. Who can resist those giant balloons and the to-die-for floats and my absolute favorite thing, the Rockettes! If you have a local Thanksgiving parade, hit that up, too!
And plan ahead. It’s usually my job to make the Thanksgiving menu, but that’s because I am the picky one. After making the menu, it’s time to stock up on whatever you don’t already have. Fresh cranberries, for instance. We don’t eat turkey so I need to pre-make my seitan recipe for a roast. Here in Massachusetts, you definitely need to buy the wine ahead of time. The supermarkets are open for everything you could possibly forget for the meal. The liquor stores, however, are closed.
Now it’s your turn: How do you make a simple and small Thanksgiving feel festive?