In just one week we will all be preparing to tie on our feed sacks and gather round the family table in recognition of the first meal shared between Indians and Pilgrims and blah, blah, blah. Truth be told, Thanksgiving has become, for many of us, an obligatory meal (and entire day) wherein we gorge ourselves on foods we may not necessarily like from farms and factories we know nothing about. We spend money we don’t have traveling to a location where we can gather with our loved ones for a day that movies seem to be made of.

And while Crystal and I will be joining my extended family in Virginia for the Thanksgiving holiday, the word for me this year is frugality. My family, like others, has suffered the past two years with layoffs, closing our small businesses, racking up debt, and we no longer have the finances to celebrate with a 40 lb. bird (which disgusts me at any rate), fine bottles of wine, and deserts rich with mousse. So how then do we apply “frugality” with Thanksgiving?

And while I can’t say how everyone celebrates their holiday, I can assume most families have a very traditional American Thanksgiving: football, parades, and a turkey dinner. How then can we reign in the spending and busy pace of the holiday?

1. Stay at home

The most memorable Thanksgiving for me doesn’t even involve my biological family. I was living in Savannah, GA surrounded by dear friend who were from all over the country. None of us could really afford to head home for the holidays and we certainly couldn’t get the days off to do so. So, we had an “Orphans Day of Thanks.” We stayed at OUR home having a quiet holiday. I let my extended family know that while I wouldn’t be with them I would be with family and that I looked forward to seeing them at Christmas. I was so thankful to have such wonderful friends to share a meal with.

Through the years I have enjoyed a few years where I didn’t participate in the Odom Thanksgiving and instead enjoyed the freedom to celebrate however I wanted. I have volunteered at a shelter. I have had Chinese food in front of a couple good movies. I have done anything but lock myself in a plane or a car in uncomfortable clothes, dealing with cheap wine, drunk relatives, overblown political conversations, and in some cases, unresolved family matters.

2. Sub-size it

Minimalism is about limiting the size of things and using/owning only what you need. So to invoke the main principles of Thanksgiving why not think about how many people your home can comfortably seat. Keep your guest list short and manageable. Don’t supersize. Sub-size!

If I may look back at the “Orphans…” meal we reduced stress by making it a pot luck style meal. Everyone gives and therefore everyone receives! With no one person having to feel the brunt of the day it frees everyone up to enjoy the day.

3. Cook for JUST the day

As Americans we have a legacy of overpreparing; overcooking. We like to think that at any time an army could march through town, demand our home from us, and then make us feed them. But when you are talking about Thanksgiving and not the second Civil War, it is unlikely you will have to host Sherman and his troop. There is no compelling reason to cook a week’s worth of food for just one meal. No one grew an appetite labeled “turkey day stomach” overnight. Your family will eat only the amount the do every other day of the week.

A good idea is to focus on quality and not quantity. Instead of fixing cranberry sauce, mustard greens, rolls, mashed potatoes, etc., try asking each guest what their favorite dish is and then basing the meal off that. You’ll have all the favorites without being overwhelmed by a gluttonous feast.

4. Don’t forget to be thankful

We have all enjoyed the construction paper turkeys made of handprints, the folded newspaper pilgrim hats, and the Indian headbands that have become stalwarts of this “sacred” American holiday. Thanksgiving has become a day in which even the most stoic of us bows a thankful head and the further our nation falls into unemployment and financial security, we have an increasing lot to be thankful for! So please do spend the day in thanksgiving. That is a no-brainer!

This year try asking a neighbor who may not have family to join yours for the meal. Spend a few hours volunteering at a shelter you agree with and believe in. Take a pie or some canned goods to a family who may not be even as fortunate as you. But do it all with a thankful heart.

Start a new tradition. Some families use Thanksgiving as a sort of experimental holiday in which custom no longer rules but innovation does. As you get older and your family grows up, there is no rule that says you must have the typical Thanksgiving. Allow your family to show how it gives thanks and then apply that idea. Whatever you and yours decides to do, look beyond just the superficial tones of the day and really find the heart and soul of the day for yourself.

5. Buy Nothing Day

Like me, you may also follow a simple plan for life that involves elements of minimalism. We do so partially in response to what we see in our culture as a steady diet of over-consumerism. With that in mind, use this time of year to join in with others who have decided to express their desires of anti-consumerism by not doing any shopping on Black Friday (which walks hand-in-hand) with Thanksgiving now.

Buy Nothing Day
started in 1992, has become an “international day of protest against consumerism.” It is a day of unshopping and unwinding. For those of us living intentionally frugal lives, participating in a day opposed to frenzied spending might just be worth more than 25% your total purchase at your local Old Navy.

There is no doubt about it. Thanksgiving is a beautiful day. There are as many ways to enjoy it as their are people to enjoy it with. So whatever you do or however you choose to celebrate, do so in a manner that keeps the holiday at the forefront and hones in the things that give the day the greatest meaning to your life!