Those large holiday gatherings can be stressful, but whatever tensions might arise at the table often pale next to what it took to get everyone to that table.
Virtually gone is the Norman Rockwellian dinner where everyone heads over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house, where she has made the entire feast for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Nowadays, coordinating such get-togethers likely involves geographical, culinary and duty-sharing challenges -- and that's before addressing the different branches a family tree might have sprouted via divorce(s) and the emotional baggage that relatives accumulate over the years.
"As we change as a culture, our families' celebrations need to change, as well," said Debra Orbuch Grayson, a Minnetonka-based licensed marriage and family therapist. "Expectations about holiday gatherings will have to change in order for them to work. Keep an open mind."
As with most everything involving relationships, Grayson added, the key is communication among family members. She recommends that organizers "ask questions of your family members instead of deciding what works for them. ... Asking for input reflects a mutual respect and caring."
Grayson emphasized that there is no easy recipe (except maybe for the mashed potatoes). Here is how some Minnesotans have navigated the hurdles and mine fields in facilitating family holiday gatherings:
VERY EXTENDED FAMILY
"My family gathers for Thanksgiving and Christmas here at [husband George Weyer's] and my home. It involves my dad and his longtime lady friend driving up from eastern Iowa accompanied by my brother from Illinois; my sister, her husband, their daughters and the daughters' spouses [and now their children] arriving from central Wisconsin, and my sister and her wife flying in from Ohio.
"When there were fewer of us, we created sleeping quarters for everyone. But now that we are a larger group, the more financially secure family members stay at a local hotel. This is quite a change from the 1970s when we gathered at my parents' home, slept in our former rooms and my mother did all of the cooking.
"Our hosting of Thanksgiving has been especially popular the past few years due to the increasing prominence of the procurement holiday of Black Friday; the Twin Cities has much better shopping options than the town of 5,000 where my dad has his home."
"Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Last year [husband] Kevin's cousin had a wedding party in Las Vegas, not my favorite place for Thanksgiving. This year, it's at our house.
"My husband is Chinese. My family is European. I have three stepchildren, one who lives with us full-time, another with the mom full-time, and the youngest is half-time. I have an ex-uncle whom I still invite to holiday gatherings. Most of my family still lives in Montana, but I do have an aunt and cousins who live north of the Cities, a close cousin in Florida [who is visiting this year] and my grandparents winter in Arizona. So holidays can take a lot of coordination.
"I'm a planner by nature. I'm usually the one who's planning everything, even if my aunt hosts. Kevin's Aunt Su makes the best egg rolls on the planet, so this year we'll have those and his grandmother's shrimp rolls. For Easter we'll request papya salad or something [Asian] like that."
"As a kid, Thanksgiving was just our family of four. After we grew up we always would do it at my parents', even as my brother married, divorced and remarried. But my brother's wife's father has been very ill for six years, so she goes to Wisconsin and we've been doing Thanksgiving with my wife Christy's family.
"We rotate, one year at her brother's, one year us and one year with her aunt in St. Cloud. At Christmas, we do one of the others. One of my aunt's daughters is in the Coast Guard and coming back this year, so we're going there again even though we went there last year. Whoever's hosting does most of the cooking unless it's at my house, and then I do all the cooking because I love to cook.
"About October we start calling around, 'Where are we going to be Thanksgiving, and where are we going to be Christmas?' My side is pretty hard and true: Christmas afternoon and the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Christy's family bings and bangs and goes all around the place."
68, Eden Prairie
"When Nick and I were first married, there was always a bit of stress around where we would spend the holidays. Since I am one of nine children and Nick has only one brother, he seemed to favor smaller gatherings at his parents' home. We quickly resolved this by having the holidays at our home and inviting his family and various members of my family, depending on who could make it.
"Now that we have three married daughters with families of their own, our house is the hub for the Christmas holidays, but Thanksgiving is much quieter. Our middle daughter is in Florida and doesn't come home for Thanksgiving, and the youngest daughter goes to Vermont to celebrate Thanksgiving with her husband's family. So we have our oldest daughter and her family and Nick's brother and his wife. Planning is easy because I make the turkey, mashed potatoes and pies, and the guests bring everything else."
DOING IT HIS WAY
49, Avon, Minn.
"About 10 years ago I got stubborn and stated I wasn't going anywhere for Thanksgiving or Christmas anymore. If people wanted to come to my house for dinner, I'd be more than happy to cook for them. The first Christmas, I found myself putting an 18-pound prime rib on the grill as I had 15 people who took me up on my offer. So every Thanksgiving and Christmas we have a houseful of people, but it saves me from having to travel on those days.
"Most often when I mention this to the person in a household who does the cooking, they agree that is the way to go. All you have to do is cook one big meal, but you don't have to travel and you get to stay in your own house."
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643