Whether you're hosting Thanksgiving or visiting loved ones as guests, whether your gathering consists of two or thirty, the holiday feeling we all hope for can be summed up in the following all-encompassing phrase: love and be loved. Ranging from physical ways to set the mood, to some unseen ways to make the holiday more meaningful, here are a few ways to add an extra touch of warmth and light to your special days.
1. Laugh when things go wrong. We had a special (unintentional) tradition a couple Thanksgivings in a row and it's called Shifrah sets the marshmallows on fire. Oh my. Luckily the singed marshmallows are easy to peel off, and hooray for an extra bag of minis! Hello, take two. We laughed about it when it happened, and we've laughed about it every year since.
2. Simmer something wonderful. I've known about the heavenly smelling stove top simmers for years. This year I want to actually do it. I think the key is throwing everything in a bag, ready to go, ahead of time so I'm not trying to "cook" up a nice smell when I'm trying to cook the pumpkin cheesecake.
3. Don't fight. It happens to us all. The stress of the holidays, being together in close quarters, many petty resentments creeping in — but do whatever you can to let bygones be bygones, forgive one another, and be truly grateful for your time together. No one knows what the next year will bring, but you can savor the time with loved ones at the table right now.
4. Say it out loud. Are you so happy to spend another Thanksgiving with your 96-year-old grandmother? Tell her. Tell her how much it means to you to be together, for her to see your children, to be able to hear her sage advice. Take the opportunity to tell your mother thank you for making the key lime pie she's been making for thirty years. Being open in this way will warm people's hearts, a feeling that will fill the home.
5. Let it go. Didn't get to the finishing touches on the guest room? Forgot to clean the mirrors in the bathrooms? Just let it go. Everyone wants to be with you more than they want a perfect setting. Let them.
6. Light candles. These touches of light really do add instant warmth and festivity to any occasion, so make it part of your daily routine at this time of year. Remember to use unscented candles at the table, and to place them out of the way of children or animals who may knock them over.
7. Do something together. You're already together, yes, you're having Thanksgiving together. But engaging in an activity as a group is really special and fun. I have fond, fond memories of my elegant grandparents playing charades in my great-aunt's living room. Do something the whole family can participate in that brings everyone just a bit closer together.
8. Take a walk. Sometimes a little change of scene does wonders. And when you return to a warm house with a cozy fire, everyone is extra grateful for hearth and home. Step outside (or send everyone outside if you need a bit of quiet) and enjoy the weather and each other's company. (Leave the phones in the house.)
9. Involve the children. Whether it's letting them help you peel apples or having them make personalized turkeys out of tracings of their hands, getting the kids involved in the festivities makes them feel like they are contributing rather than getting in the way and it also keeps them constructively occupied.
10. Don't forget the hostess gift. If you're going to someone's home for Thanksgiving, don't just bring your contribution to the meal; consider a little something special for your hosts, something personal and special. This could be a thing or an action. For instance, offer to watch all the kids sometime during the weekend so your hosts can go out for a date without worrying about a babysitter. Or help your sister with the closet-cleaning-out project she can't seem to get to on her own. Giving your time and skills to a loved one in a meaningful way is often the best gift.
11. Do something for others. With Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Amazon Lighting Deals, and Cyber Monday, Thanksgiving can quickly turn into a me me me me me consumer-fest. Remember those less fortunate and do something to help. Find out beforehand where you can volunteer, what you can donate, and how you can set an example of getting outside of your own world to better someone else's. Doing this together is particularly special, memorable, and impactful for all involved.