The Perfectionist’s Guide to Thanksgiving

Seasons Greetings, everyone!

If you are reading this in real time, we have rounded the corner on Thanksgiving week. Maybe you are in the throws of recipe googling, list making, and grocery shopping. You might be waking up in the middle of the night with “do I still have a turkey baster?” recalling your eight-year-old’s comment last summer about wanting to take it to the pool.

Thanksgiving is a lovely holiday, but holidays bring with them a certain level of pressure. Today, we are going to talk about how to enjoy a holiday as a current or recovering perfectionist.

Many Shades of Perfect

Before we jump into troubleshooting, I have to say that not all perfectionists look the same. Honestly, if you walked into my house right now, you might not get the immediate impression that I struggle with perfectionism at all. (Ugh.) For me, perfectionism doesn’t seem to manifest itself in a meticulous home.

I’m more of an intangible perfectionist. (Some might call this Utopianism or Idealism.) I want to be perfect. I want a perfectly executed school day. I want my husband to say the perfect things at the perfect moment, my life to fit perfectly into my time table.

Anything less, and I feel the tension. (Which means: I always feel the tension.)

Don’t get me wrong, I do fixate on tangible details as well. It flips back and forth. Because I can’t actually control my intangible world, I switch over to micromanaging my tangible one.

Whether our perfectionism is tangible, intangible, or a mixture of both, it can be a real struggle to enjoy a holiday. This time of year, I can feel my blood pressure start to rise.

There’s nothing wrong with taking the time to create a beautiful Thanksgiving. It might even be something you immensely enjoy doing. But if you find yourself turning into a bit of a monster during the process, read on. Let’s get our heads on straight together.

Troubleshooting Tips

Here are four ways to get a hold of ourselves during this week.

1. Get some perspective.

I think it is important to note that Thanksgiving is not a Biblically-mandated holiday. You will not find detailed instructions in the book of Leviticus on how to celebrate the Thanksgiving feast.

Which means, all of this comes down to preference.

There’s not technically a right or wrong way to do it. I know, but what about tradition? Well, all traditions were new ideas at one point. I’m not saying we need to throw out the old and reinvent Thanksgiving each year, but adding this perspective can help us relax the choke grip we might have on the holiday.

Understanding that this all comes down to preference can free us to think about what we actually like. Your Thanksgiving doesn’t have to look like Martha Stewart’s if that’s not your thing. Give yourself permission to let your traditions evolve as needed.

Remember, this is not life or death. It is a slightly fancier dinner with family or friends. So take a deep breath.

Everything does not have to be perfect to be enjoyable.

2. Operate within your limits.

This is a hard one.

Many times, what we want to pull of does not line up with our energy level, our time restrictions, or our financial realities.

We have to work with what we’ve got. Our resources are finite. And we can’t deplete them all just for Thanksgiving. We have to decide what we can manage, with a bit of margin on the side. This goes for whether we are hosting or volunteering to help.

People who struggle with perfectionism need to err on the side of simplicity. We will fixate on fewer details if there are fewer details.

Listen, if things are nuts this year it’s okay to order Chinese and call it a day. There’s nothing inherently thankful about turkeys.

But if we are going to brave the traditional feast, operating within our limitations is a must for enjoyment. That twelve-step turkey brine recipe might just have to wait until next year.

3. Remember the people.

Perfectionism is like writing a script and then expecting everyone in our life follow it. We might tell ourselves that we have noble intentions. We just want it to be special. But having a massive melt-down over things not going according to our script isn’t really the special we’re after.

Usually it is the people closest to us who feel the brunt of our imbalanced priorities. There might be applause at the unveiling of the feast, but if we’ve mowed over our dearest ones in order to pull it off, there will be mixed feelings at our Thanksgiving tables.

Friends, this should not be. I say this in grief over my own tendency.

We must consider the desires of the people we love.

For me, that means acknowledging my husband’s request to have a quiet Thanksgiving at home this year. It means making time for my children when they ask if they can work with me, rather than me assigning everybody jobs so that I can work alone.

When perfectionism begins to turn us into irritated, tunnel-visioned people, let’s try and remember why we are doing this in the first place.

Who are you celebrating with and what do they need?

My advice is to embrace where you are and who you are with. Listen to your loved ones, even if what they say is contrary to your script. Be honest with yourself with what you actually care about.

Slow down and keep your relationships as priority. Let secondary things be secondary.

4. Don’t wait until dinner to be thankful.

This is the traditional time of year to stop and be grateful for our blessings. But let’s not reserve our thankful thoughts for after we are finally seated at the table. Anyone can grow sentimental over pie and coffee.

It’s when we are running late or when we’ve burned the one thing that we are in charge of bringing. Those are the times that we need to remember it the most.

Every moment, the faithfulness of God surrounds us like the air we breathe, even when our plans run a muck. We spend so much time and energy preparing to celebrate our thankfulness, but it’s a lifestyle of thankfulness that God desires.


As we navigate preparing for this holiday, may we keep things in perspective, operate within our limits, remember to prioritize our relationships, and let thankfulness be the theme of our week.

Father,
We surrender our natural tendencies to you. Use our attention to detail to bless the people we love and to bring glory to Your name this week, not to serve our own agendas. Help us to meditate on your goodness in all circumstances. Thank you for your unending faithfulness to us.

Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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