Illustration by Anna Emilia
Thanksgiving. Hands down, my favorite holiday of the year. I love Thanksgiving so much because it gives you a chance to celebrate food and family without all the pressure and stress of gift-giving. It’s a time when people pack up their bags, gather around their family and friends and find time to cook together, eat together and share memories and moments of thankfulness with the people they love most. But despite best intentions, any family get together can sometimes breed drama and uncomfortable moments. So rather than obsessing over the ‘proper’ way to set a table (as long as the food, utensils and your loved ones are there, it’s perfect), I thought it would be nice to share tips and advice for making your Thanksgiving as drama-free as possible. From ways to be a great guest to tips for the host, I’ve rounded up ideas that will help everyone enjoy the holiday without arguing over old family issues or who gets the last roll. Here’s to everyone having a safe, happy and healthy Thanksgiving this year. xo, grace
HOSTS: Setting Expectations and Making People Feel Welcome
For me, the best way to avoid any type of drama when entertaining is to set clear “rules” and expectations for guests. This isn’t about ordering people around, but rather about giving them a clear idea of what to expect so everyone can understand how the event will go down. Not only does this ensure people with dietary restrictions can prepare ahead of time, but it lets people know what time to arrive/leave and when to book a babysitter if necessary. We’ve all been to an event that started WAY later than we expected, so it’s nice to know when you can expect to eat or head home- always what you’re expected to bring, if anything.
- Set the date and time and stick to it (or as closely as possible): Make sure people coming for Thanksgiving know what time to arrive, when they’ll be eating and when events will be over. It makes babysitter booking easy for parents and lets people know how to choose their mode of transportation (ie: taking public transport if they’re coming home during rush-hour)
- Specify details: Can people bring a guest? Are pets allowed (always a source of drama for my family)? Will TV watching happen (Thanksgiving is prime football time for some)? Make that decision clear so guests can prepare or decide if this event is right for them.
- Ask for help if you need it: This is probably the best thing you can do to avoid stress. If cooking on your own for a full house makes you panic, tell people how they can help. Suggest dishes they can bring, or ask if a few people would mind clean up or put things away after the meal.
GUESTS: How to Have Fun, Help Out and Enjoy the Holidays
Much like the host’s responsibility, a guest also should be clear with a host if they want things to go as smoothly as possible. Dietary restrictions, plus ones- anything that could throw a host for a loop should be announced ahead of time. In addition, being respectful of the host’s home rules and requests are a given. Aside from common sense behavior rules (don’t chew with your mouth open, etc.), here are some things to keep in mind:
- RSVP on time: If someone invites you to Thanksgiving, be sure to RSVP as soon as possible so they have time to plan their meal accordingly.
- Guests: Ask Ahead. If you’re planning to bring a plus one or want to inquire about bringing a friend who doesn’t have anywhere to spend the holiday, ask the host ahead of time so they can prepare or see if they have room. Some hosts prepare special name tags, gifts, etc. for guests, so they’d like the chance to make one- or at the very least prepare enough food- for the additional guests.
- Helping Out: An old southern adage I always heard growing up was “ask three times”. If someone insists they don’t need help after 3 offers, accept and move on. But if they said “It’s fine, I can handle all the food”, it’s awfully kind to ask again (“That’s so sweet of you, but are you sure I can’t bring a bottle of wine or a side dish?”) and make sure they don’t need help. Sometimes an extra bottle of wine, some bread or an extra side dish is a huge help and people are too shy to ask.
- Host Gift: It’s not required, but it’s always thoughtful to bring someone a gift for hosting a huge event at their home, especially if you’re not bringing food/wine or another contribution to the meal. Here are some ideas of what to bring.
- Pay Attention to Time: If you’re running late and stuck in traffic, give your host a call to let them know. Food may need to be delayed to prepare for your arrival, so try to be as close to on time as possible so food doesn’t get cold awaiting your arrival. The same goes for over-staying your welcome. Try not to fall asleep on the couch after everyone has gone- unless you’re spending the night there. In which case, ask if you can help clean up before retiring for a tryptophan-fuled nap.
- Dress appropriately: Unless someone specifies that super-casual is the name of the game, dress in a way that shows respect for the person who has put so much work into feeding and caring for your group. This isn’t about style or taste so much as wearing things that are family appropriate (no shirts with offensive sayings, etc.) and that suit your host’s needs. For example, if you’re eating at your very conservative grandmother’s home, this isn’t the time to try out your skin-tight red mini dress or wear the. That may be what you’re comfortable in, but you’re a guest in someone’s home with different levels of comfort so try to respect theirs.
- Help Clean Up: Unless a host force-ably removes you from the kitchen (and some will), it’s polite to help wash up a bit, help clear plates or help get dessert/coffee ready. If there are bags of trash ready to go, take them with you when you leave or head outside for fresh air.
- Conversation: There are two things to remember at family events. One, avoid controversial topics. Unless you come from a family where political arguments are the norm, avoid topics that are likely to make others feel uncomfortable. Two, engaging in discussion is part of being a polite guest. Unless people are going out of their way to keep your out of conversations (which hopefully isn’t the case), speaking up and answering when someone asks you a question should be a given. It always drove me nuts growing up with relatives would bring friends who sat there silently at the table, not speaking. If you don’t want to be somewhere, don’t go. But if you’re there, be a nice guest and try to make conversation with the people who’ve invited you.
- Thank Yous: Thanksgiving is no small event to host or cook for, so be sure to follow up with a thank you note or call after the event. It shows people how much their hard work was appreciated- and goes a long way toward getting an invite for next year.
Every family and friend-group has their own traditions, social norms and rules, so be sure to tailor any event guidelines to those needs. No matter what event you’re attending, it always boils down to being kind, respectful and thankful to both the hosts and the guests enjoying the meal with you. Hopefully this year we can all enjoy the holiday without re-hashing old family arguments ;) xo, grace