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Marion Syversen Marion Syversen
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Celebrating with friends and family

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The next few months will be filled with opportunities to celebrate with friends and family.

Celebrating any event or holiday is about the time shared together and the affection of loved ones. It is not about lists, or things to do, and NOT about stress - especially the stress of finances.

And yet, the stress of finances can be a real issue. Costs for many items, like food, are rising. Feeding the hungry hordes this season can cost some serious money. So let's think about ideas on enjoying a beautiful and frugal holiday meal.

First, remember what's really important. These celebrations were never about the food. Though food was shared at the first Thanksgiving, the event occurred as a celebration of life.

I'm half Italian, so believe me when I tell you, I know food plays an important role in the enjoyment of these special days. Everyone has a favorite family recipe. All year you look forward to enjoying its tastiness, no matter the weight gained as a consequence. I totally agree that holiday foods are a source of pleasure.

But the priority, the real focus, of these celebrations isn't the food. The holidays have a much deeper significance. On these days we remember the historic and earth-changing events that occurred many years ago. But the ritual of our meals together also prompts gratitude for all our blessings, including for friends and family.

Now back to finances. Celebrations are important, but they are not for getting into debt. How can we have a memorable day, surrounded by friends and family, and do it frugally?

You need a plan

What do you generally like to have at these family dinner? To save money this year you may want to emphasize foods that are filling but inexpensive. Side dishes, made with foods that are cheaper, such as potatoes and carrots, fill bellies while allowing you to spend less money than other foods.

Other cheap tricks include saving those Halloween pumpkins for your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, and making food from scratch, which generally is the cheaper option.

Let people help

Allow guests to bring food and drink to the day's event. This will require two things: 1) knowing what meats, sides, desserts and beverages you generally have at your gathering, so you are able to easily give generous guests ideas on what to bring, and 2) relinquishing some control. You will have to be OK with the way they cook their potatoes or carrots. You can choose to be happy and allow others to be generous, to show love and to bless the family with their contribution of food.

Relinquishing control graciously is a choice and involves some flexibility. Relax your shoulders, breathe deeply, my friend, and be ready to modify your practical and emotional expectations based on circumstances. Because you are mindful that this celebration is about relationships and gratitude and not about control, you will be able to let go and allow others to help!

Shop smart

Meat is usually the most expensive part of the meal, so talk to friends and family to find the best deals in local shops and large retailers. Check with the Maine Edge's own Frugal Fern on great deals.

When you shop, consider buying only what you will eat that day. It isn't required that you have days and days of leftover food. If you have limited cash, buying twice what will be eaten for the meal isn't necessary. Rethink old habits.

Beautifying the table

Making the dinner and your house beautiful is part of making any event special. Holiday decorations made with the kids, or even made BY the kids, make memories. Special effort spent decorating separates this day from the usual, perhaps rushed, weeknight meals.

But decorating can be very expensive. You need to think creatively to satisfy your decorative urges and the practical needs of a large crowd in your wee house.

When it comes to decorating the house, sideboard and tables, collect freshly cut branches, pinecones, pumpkins and gourds from the garden. Rose hips, bittersweet, leaves and lichen combined with other items such as nuts, apples and berries, or used alone on a plate or in a special bowl, can make a display that rivals those of magazines. There is free beauty to delight your guests right outside your door, my friend.

Need more dishes or chairs? Borrow what you don't have from friends, or check with your church. So long as you bring things back in good time and take responsibility for breakage, many churches will lend active members chairs, tables, coffee makers and other items that could really simplify your plans.

In the end, remember, it's not the stuff the food or even our surroundings. Sharing a meal and being together is the best part of these special days.

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