Traditions & Celebrations

Sunday Self Care: Terrible Holiday Planning Advice

And how to resist it

Welcome to what the British call the “Festive Season.” Here in the US, starting with this Thursday’s Thanksgiving and continuing through the winter months we will be faced with a literal gauntlet of family gatherings, festive events, religious and secular observances, and large scale meals that we will often have to share with people we barely tolerate, all while at least pretending to have a good time.

By the time we get to the finale, Super Bowl Sunday, it’s incredibly likely we will have gained 20 pounds of sugar plum weight, strained our marriages and/or polyamorous communes to the breaking point, alienated people we were expecting to inherit money from and created cherished memories that will last a lifetime, or at least until St. Patricks Day. Here at Grounded Parents we’ve spent literally about 15 minutes of rigorous research to find some of the best and/or most hilarious advice we could to help you plan your holiday gathering with minimal bloodshed.

Invitations… When and Who

PBS Food recommends sending out invites three weeks in advance of Turkey Day and asking for RSVP’s at least 10 days before the big day. Which means if you are reading this you are already behind schedule. Which is fine because in the real world holiday celebrations are family events with years of stultifying traditions and expectations larding them down. Unless there have been a surfeit of blessed and/or tragic events in the past year you are likely having the same family and friends over as you did last year. Assume they can read a calendar and remember the recent past and you can probably wing this part.

The who to invite question is a little stickier. If you have dependent children then it is considered normal to invite them. It is also considered illegal to keep them locked in the basement for the duration. If your kids are small, consider making sure a cousin who has reached the sullen teenager stage of development is invited and put them in charge of the “kids table.” If you have a sullen teenager of your own, consider providing this service for your younger siblings children.

Older offspring may request a place be made for their boyfriend/girlfriend/co-conspirator at the holiday table. This is often a “big step” in a budding relationship and you should consider carefully the impression you may be making on someone who could easily be coming to these events for the rest of your life. Don’t miss the opportunity to flip the tables here and see if your spawn might rather spend  the holiday making their significant other’s family uncomfortable this year. That’s two less servings of mashed potatoes to fight over.

Give “Scary” Boyfriend a Chance to Prove Himself

The Menu…

If you have the financial wherewithal it is highly recommended you have your holiday gathering catered. Holiday food is often overly complicated and requires days of preparation. Why not make someone else miss their family for the holiday. In the more likely event you are not in the 1% of households you will want to plan a menu and cook at home.

Luckily most holidays come prepackaged with a variety of culturally acceptable/required traditional dishes. The internet will provide direction for making everything from the simple Butterball, mashed potatoes and veggie side dishes your Dad remembers from the 70’s, before Americans discovered flavor, to whatever weed fueled monstrosity Martha Stewart is slinging to the Williams-Sonoma crowd.

In all seriousness (really!) Stay within or maybe just a little beyond your comfort zone when it comes to holiday dinners. If you are a lifetime Cooks Illustrated subscriber like myself you can probably handle something pretty daring. But there is nothing wrong with leaning on family to supplement your fare. Does your brother cook a mean turkey? Have Thanksgiving at his house!

Most family members or guests will want to help by bringing their favorite dish. This is fine as it saves you money and cooking time that you can devote to buying and drinking alcohol. Be careful though. Holiday recipe books are where a lot of denizens of the Gallery of Regrettable Food reside, preserved like cabbage in gelatin by grandmothers who remember the Great Depression better than last week.

Garden Salad #1
Imagine you’re hungover. Deeply hungover. Someone presents you with this – and shakes the plate so it wiggles. Frankly, it already looks like someone heaved into a mold and stuck the result in the fridge. But that’s Gel-Cookery!

If you have guests who are vegan or vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions, make sure you find out and prepare ahead of time. Especially check for allergies, nothing spoils the holiday mood like anaphylactic shock. You don’t even have to prep a Tofurkey. Just make sure there are meatless options. It’s the 21st century, don’t be an asshole about this when we have so many more compelling reasons to argue at the dinner table these days.

Put Politics Aside…NOT!

Big family gatherings are fertile ground for breeding resentment and rancor before you even introduce the current state of public affairs. We used to be able to paper over these differences with some football on tv, extra pie and plenty of brandy. But now we can’t even watch the Lions lose without Uncle Racist insisting that Colin Kaepernick is a secret Muslim terrorist or your Bernie Sanders obsessed cousin screaming at her mom about the DNC screwing Bernie over again just like 2016 and  the sullen teens boy and/or girlfriend insisting that pumpkin spice is cultural appropriation.

The problem is that we have always insisted on “putting politics aside,” at the only time that we often have the people closest to us trapped in the same house. One of the reasons Uncle Racist is so racist is that whenever his family is around him everyone clams up about the subject. Maybe if he hears it in harsh terms he might realize what he’s doing to alienate the people who love him and whom he might need a kidney from someday.

Serious Advice Time

Ok, enough joking, let’s break it down.

  1. Plan ahead.
    Know who is coming and what they will and will not eat and or bring. Plan ahead for how guests with mobility issues can get too and from the event. Make sure folks can get a ride home if they overindulge.
  2. Keep it simple and safe FOR YOU.
    If you are the host, make sure your aren’t taking on too much. Personally I often end up with at least one side dish or desert still in production when it’s time to eat. Let people help but don’t be afraid to set boundaries. If you are a guest, reach out and see how you can help. Sometimes all we need is someone to sit and listen to Grandma talk about Cross Trek for a half hour to keep her away from the kitchen.
  3. Keep your space safe FOR EVERYONE
    This is the tough love part of the advice. Maybe Uncle Racist needs to sit out a few holiday gatherings until he realizes what a douchebag he’s been. If Grandma insists on misgendering your trans kid then maybe your kid’s mental health is more important than family traditions.
  4. Have fun…
    This is supposed to be fun. If a traditional Thanksgiving with all the trimmings doesn’t float your boat, don’t host one. The Turkey police aren’t going to bus down the door if you’d rather have taco’s. Santa isn’t taking any toys away if you don’t know what “figgy pudding” is. One aspect of Humanism is that culture should serve humans and not the other way around. Maybe you have negative connotations with the holidays and would prefer not to bother at all. That’s okay… it doesn’t make you a Scrooge or a Grinch, just a different kind of Human.

Happy Holidays Grounded Parents, however you celebrate them.

PS, It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving at my house without this…


Louis Doench

Lou Doench is a 52 year old father of three. Twelve years ago he married the coolest woman in the world and gave up the lucrative career of being a photography student to become a stay at home husband and Dad, or SAHD. An atheist geek, or a geeky atheist if you prefer, Lou likes reading, photography, video gaming, disc golf, baseball and Dr. Who. He has been playing Dungeons and Dragons since 1976. Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is also an excellent home cook, not that his children would know because they only eat Mac & Cheese. Follow Lou on Twitter @blotzphoto or check out his photography at

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