When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. I got up in the morning, watched the parades on TV and listened as my parents made food for the soon-to-be-arriving guests. Both sides of my parents' families would merge for this holiday -- the only such merging to be achieved for any holiday -- and converge on our house, hungry and ready to have a nice day...assuming all went well, which was mostly wishful thinking.
As I got older, I began to realize the frantic, breakneck pace of this particular holiday. I also began to feel the pressure felt by my parents. It can be an absolutely exhausting holiday with the food preparation, decor and cleaning house. And that's before the best and worst part of Thanksgiving arrive: your guests.
Navigating your way through this treacherous holiday requires preparation, patience and at least a bit of guile to manage the tasks and personalities you face this very busy Thursday in November. Here are some suggestions for managing it without murdering someone.
10. Don't take on stuff you can't handle.
Look, Emeril, I know you want to impress everyone with your amazingly succulent turkey and thousands of side dishes, but this is not the time to experiment with recipes. If you have a traditional midwestern family, don't hand them saris when they walk in the door and yell "We're having spicy chickpeas and curry for Thanksgiving!" That look on your Uncle Bob's face is not one of happiness. Stick with the classics and with foods you can make well. Also, don't fry your damn turkey inside! More fires start on Thanksgiving because of idiots like you.
9. Don't be picky.
When someone invites you into their home this Thanksgiving, don't show up and immediately criticize the decor and the fact that they aren't serving your favorite sweet potatoes with the tiny little marshmallows. Suck it up and play nice. You're getting free food in a warm home this year. Behave, or next year it might be Chinese takeout for one, you feel me?
8. Don't be a cheapskate.
This goes for both the host and the guests. Hosts, don't invite 30 people if you intend to make one pie and mashed potatoes for four. Guests, don't show up empty handed. Bring some wine or something edible that other people actually like. We can make this holiday kick ass if we just pull together.
7. Let your uncle sleep in front of the TV after lunch.
He will probably snore. He could scratch himself. But, for this one tryptophan-fueled afternoon of the year, let the guy have some peace. Sure, if you ate lunch and he's still asleep at 7 p.m., might be time to poke him with a stick, but if the guy wants to nap for 20 or 30 minutes, he's not hurting anybody. Let him sleep.
6. Don't bogart the good stuff.
Listen, Chachie, if I see you take a third of the one pumpkin pie in attendance, I'm coming at you with a fork in my hand and vengeance in my heart. Same goes if after dinner there is limited seating and you decide to lie down on the one couch in the living room forcing many of us to sit on the floor cross legged like we're 11 at Vacation Bible school listening to the tale of Daniel in the lion's den. Be magnanimous this year and don't force us all to watch Ice Road Truckers when the kids are enjoying a cartoon or THE FREAKING TEXANS ARE ON YOU JERKOFF! Ahem.
5. No one cares if your silver or fine china or crystal stemware isn't perfect.
As a man, I have never understood the fascination with fine dining accessories people pull out one day every year despite their fear that grandma's crystal soup ladle might get cracked by the gaggle of tweens racing between the kitchen and the den. Someone might remark on your nice china, but mostly it will be covered in gravy, so don't freak out. What is this, Downton Abbey?
4. No fights at the dinner table.
If you want to take your political, religious or personal fights outside after dinner and determine a winner through feats of strength of a wrestling match, by all means, but don't start shit at dinner. Bring up Obamacare or abortion or Atheism or that time 20 years ago when you caught your brother and your girlfriend having sex in your bed -- particularly if she is now your sister-in-law, ew! -- at mealtime and you will be banished to the kids' table or the garage. You may be forced to wash all the dishes or listen to your Aunt Myrtle talk about her cat for two hours. Save that business for comments on news blogs and Jerry Springer.
3. Separate people who don't like each other.
And while we're on that topic, hosts, be smart and plan your seating early. You wouldn't sit a previously married couple together at a wedding, so why would you put the two aunts who have hated each other since birth next to each other? Unless you are just an instigator who loves to start stuff, prevent problems before the start and put them at opposite ends of the room if you have to invite them in the first place.
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2. Be nice to the host.
This is good etiquette at any time, but it is particularly true when someone has allowed a hoard of ravenous friends and relatives to descend upon their home and devour everything in site, while arguing over the remote and generally making their lives a living hell for the day. Help them with the dishes. Offer to assist in the cleanup effort. At the very least, offer a heartfelt "Atta boy!" at least a couple times during the day. It goes a long way towards making them think you are a decent human being even if you and I know the truth.
1. Don't overstay your welcome.
If you are the only one left after 10 hours of partying and the host continually yawns, looks at his watch or turns off all the lights and crawls into bed, this might be a hint that you need to leave. All good things must eventually come to an end and the longer you stay, the greater the chance those good things end BEFORE you leave. Don't be that guy. As the late great '70s rockers UFO once said, "Pack it up and go."