Calculating the Effort to Spend on Thanksgiving

A couple years ago today, I was baking muffins with my son’s preschool class and set fire to the school. Okay, technically I didn’t set it on fire—it was only butter smoke from the tin that set off the alarm, necessitating the entire school of a couple hundred kids filing out to the basketball courts while the fire department arrived en mass.

After that, my wife took over the Wednesday cooking class and it was never NEARLY so exciting. Besides, Leif was line leader that day, and he was really, very proud to lead the class evacuation. (I remember standing there with my large metal bowl and wooden spoon, smelling of smoke and trying to look innocent.)

All this is to say that the stakes might be just a little bit higher for T-Day this year—the one bonafide holiday per year that I’m officially in charge of the kitchen. What should I cook? Should I be forced to register with some government agency before attempting to cook? These questions come down to commitment. Simply, can I get away with canned sauce and Stove Top, or this year do I need to explore dishes that don’t come pre-packaged at the new Boulder, CO Trader Joe’s?

I can’t mess this up. And when I can’t mess something up that means that rather than relying on my sometimes questionable common sense it’s time for…MATH!

Here’s an equation calculating with absolute mathematical certainty (wink, wink) the effort in hours that you and/or yours need to slave in order to ensure T-Day success:

  • E= What expectations have you set with your everyday meals? Enter 1-10 with 1 being “ramen is beyond us” and 10 being “I am the next Iron Chef”
  • KPSYCH= The number of handprint turkeys, thankfulness cards, acorn sculptures, or other kid-created seasonal crafts that hang, sit, or lurk around the house
  • RS= Current relationship standing. Enter 1-10 with 10 being “recent fixed in-laws’ leaky roof” and 1 being “recently set fire to son’s classroom”
  • NT= Total number of people in attendance
  • NG= Number of guests
  • NIL= Number of in-laws
  • FMY= How fond are your childhood memories of Thanksgivings? (1-10, 10 being “sublime” and 1 being “sub par”)
  • FMS= How fond are your spouse’s childhood memories of Thanksgivings? (1-10)
  • X= The sum of all your kids’ ages (in years)

Effort is the number of hours you should spend in T-Day preparations.


This runs from almost exactly 24 hours for a gathering of 20 people with high expectations all around, to a minimum of half-an-hour for a family of two with take-out as the norm. However, Thanksgiving is frequently crowdsourced, so please feel free to subtract from a potentially terrifying total the hours that others will likely spend preparing dishes to bring to your T-Day potluck. You may also be able to subtract hours if before dinner you ply your guests with wine—I suggest that good wine in quantity is worth subtracting at the rate of $D/15 with $ being cost of the bottle and D being the average number of drinks consumed by non-pregnant adult guests.

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1 reply
  1. Martha
    Martha says:

    Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays — I love the preparation almost as much as the actual dining (well, almost). After all the calculations, I think I’m in for about 15 hours of prep… perfect… I can start pouring cocktails in my pajamas! Dinner’s at 3… hungry already.


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