Thanksgiving is perhaps the most counter-intuitive holiday in existence. The premise is simple; you and your closest family and friends get together and have a meal. Couldn't be simpler, right? However, in practice you run up against a hoard of tiny little frictions that collectively (And hopefully metaphorically) threaten to turn the whole evening into a blazing failure.
It's really not as hard as you think to make a dinner run smoothly, though, and today I thought I'd help you prep.
10. Initiate Constant Communication: Email and Facebook are wonderful things because they allow mass, recorded communication at the leisure of the respondent. Use this to your advantage. Finalize who all is coming, what will be on the menu, what time to be there, and any other basic information at least two weeks in advance, and encourage everyone to reply all with any questions or comments. The more that people know what to expect the less they will feel gypped when those expectations are not met.
9. Institute a No-Politics Rule: Maybe you come from a family of united liberals or conservatives with no dissenting voices. If so, you may skip this step. In reality, families are made up of all kinds of different viewpoints, and the atmosphere regarding political differences has been more noxious than your uncle's broccoli farts. When you send your email described above, I encourage you to remind your guests that while the Pilgrims and the Native Americans did sit down to give thanks at a feast, Thanksgiving as we know it grew out of an attempt to stop the Civil War by bringing families divided by issues together as one. There's a moral in that.
8. Assume That Your Tastes/Allergies Will Not Be Catered To: One of the reasons letting people know exactly what is going to be on the menu is a good idea is because people who have limitations like vegetarianism and food allergies can plan accordingly. Just because they may not want the prime rib doesn't mean that they don't want to see their Nana and visit family, but it does mean that they should probably have a big lunch and fill up on pie rather than sit and starve while others munch on obliviously.
If you have a serious food allergy, though, you should definitely let the host know. There is no breach of etiquette worth a trip to the emergency room because of anaphylaxis.
7. Leave Your Kids Alone: I've touched on this before regarding Christmas, but we way overstimulate our kids on the holidays. We dress them up and make them talk to people they see rarely, then make them sit down and eat food they almost never eat. If you have a house full of kids, just assign the most laid-back adult to keep an eye on them and make sure they don't kill each other, and then let them run around and play until it's time for dinner. There will be plenty of time to catch up with grandma after they've worked off their social anxiety with a little exercise and input on their level.
6. Plan on Being Flexible About the Television: Football and Thanksgiving are almost synonymous, but if you don't get to watch the game of your choice then it's not the end of the world. As far as I can tell there are approximately 500 different football games in the fall, and you can afford to miss one if it keeps a tribe of toddlers quiet watching Yo Gabba Gabba. That's what DVR is for.
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5. Bring Your Own Drinks: With all the prep that goes into making a huge family meal, the last thing that anyone wants to worry about is what beverages to serve. Most folks I know pick up some bottles of soda and maybe juice for the kids and call it good. Lighten their load and embarrassment about not having what you like to drink by bringing it along. Personally, I bring two 20-ounce bottles of Coke Zero, simultaneously saving an extra purchase for my family and cutting down the load of cups in the dishwasher afterward.
4. Do Not Show Up the Chef: Do you make the greatest sweet potatoes on the planet? Is your stuffing the stuffing of legend? That's awesome, but do not bring that over unannounced. Nothing is more aggravating than putting together a meal at your house and having everyone talk about the thing someone else brought. If you want to contribute, ask first. On a similar note...
3. There is No "Real Thanksgiving": When my wife first came to my family's Thanksgiving dinner, she was perplexed that there were no sweet potatoes and wondered who the hell eats risotto with turkey. For my part, I think it's weird to have ham alongside the turkey and consider having a salad course on Starchmas heathenish treason. You know what? Both are correct. Do not compare the fictional perfect meal in your head to the reality laid out before you. If you want a meal that perfectly adheres to your aesthetic principles, you make it.
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2. Bring Your Own Tupperware and Ask For Leftovers: I don't have hard statistics on this, but I am willing to bet that more than half of all Tupperware in your house is the result of "borrowing" from relatives on holiday dinners. It's something you never think about until the meal is over, but you're going to want something to take leftovers home in. Why steal from your host on top of everything?
However, do not walk in with a big bag of plastic containers. It looks like you're claiming the leftovers for yourself. Ask if you can have some to take home, then go fetch the containers from the car. And finally...
1. Assume That It Will Go Terrible: I'm not trying to jinx your evening, but things go wrong. Turkeys turn out bad, fights break out, and sometimes things catch fire. Before the holiday, make sure that your own home is stocked with some regular fare to feed yourself when the stores are closed. That definitely includes booze if rule No. 2 is ignored and you spend the evening hearing about Obamacare from different sides.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, but it is not in and of itself magical. The magic comes from being a family together and breaking fast over a meal prepared with love. Don't let the rose-colored glasses of television fakestalgia influence you. Approach the gathering with logic and patience, and you should be just fine.