Some of us love Thanksgiving, some of us dread it, and many feel conflicting emotions. But that’s the crux of the issue: Thanksgiving is an emotional holiday. While the feast is central to the celebration, to truly savor the often-wonderful food, you need to set (and maintain) the right mood throughout the meal.
Naturally, this annual event inspires both joy and anxiety depending on who will be at your Thanksgiving dinner and how you feel about them.
And even if you’re too far away from your own family (psychologically, physically or both) to make the quick turnaround trip, that trendy backup plan — “Friendsgiving” – also can serve up a variety of emotions. Instead of the escape from the traditional Thanksgiving that many expect, sometimes Friendsgiving turns out to be a gathering of homesick acquaintances who are too broke or busy to be with family at Thanksgiving.
But no matter what kind of Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving or other gathering you attend, the following six tips should help increase your chances of having a positive experience, ultimately enhancing the event’s appetite appeal on several levels.
Tip 1: Bring A Memorable Host Or Hostess Gift
If you’re not hosting, you should bring an uplifting gift for the brave person who “volunteered” to gather many people of different personalities, agendas, baggage and coping mechanisms into his or her haven for several hours.
This gift shows that you respect the person preparing the dinner and you’re there to lend support. You’re also claiming the role of the ultimate, low- maintenance guest. This alone could help the host or hostess to get over the last three comments he or she just endured from the “Emperor” or “Empress” in the kitchen who’s a turkey-baking expert that also requires constant attention.
One of my favorite host or hostess gifts for November gatherings is the Thanksgiving Popcorn Feast – because it can help to tame grumbling stomachs as everyone waits for the turkey to finally be done.
Plus this seasonal favorite at GourmetGiftBaskets.com has scrumptious, handcrafted popcorn in 10 feast-appropriate flavors: Turkey, Gravy, Apple Pie, Pumpkin Pie, Strawberry Cheesecake, Herb-Roasted Vegetables, Buttered Corn On The Cob, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Cranberry Sauce and Stuffing.
So it also can serve as a fun, and unusual conversation starter that engages even the most introverted, grimace-sporting relative. This quirky gift even has the potential to spread contagious smiles throughout the group.
Tip 2: Place Only The Food You Plan To Eat On Your Plate
If you’ve never liked squash, but feel compelled to put it on your plate to “try it” for the 20th time, please avoid that impulse.
Here’s why – you don’t want the host to think that it didn’t taste good as it sits neglected on your plate, and you don’t want to tempt Aunt Sally to call you out for not eating it. She comes off as annoying and you look unsatisfied – neither of which leads to a good experience for anyone.
Leftover food on your plate also can make someone utter something else that’s a real no-no – the dreaded question about whether or not you’re on a diet or worse, whether you should be on one! Broaching that topic at Thanksgiving can really put a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
So avoiding the half-eaten food on your plate is a preventative measure protecting you and the group from several potential pitfalls.
Tip 3: Utter Something Genuinely Nice About The Food
Let’s say the turkey is overcooked and needs every drop of gravy you could find to wash it down. Or maybe the green beans are mushy and barely retain their shape. (Hey, it happens sometimes!). No matter what, just keep quiet, even if you want to crack a joke about it.
Instead, find one thing at the meal that tasted the best to you and praise that item. Other well-mannered people will take the hint and praise it, too – or applaud their favorite aspect of the meal.
That genuine praise should help the host or hostess to feel good and should lift the mood of the table. And if someone unsavory doesn’t take the hint and says something negative, tell him or her to try something else that you think is universally appealing. “Did you try those hot, buttered rolls? Oh, you really should. They’re fantastic!”
The idea is to keep the emotions light, supportive and yes, thankful, whether or not “Doomer” and his wife, “Gloomer” are at the table.
Tip 4: If You Have Kids, Dress Them Up To Be As Cute As Possible
This not only applies if you’re a guest. It works if you’re the host/hostess, as well. Here’s the reason why: cute kids can be a great distraction from the crabby people at the table — even if one of the crabby people is that cute kid!
People praising the kids will help the children (who may or may not like their relatives) to feel better, as well.
Ultimately, the more people praise the kids – the less likely they are to say something offensive or to bring up some lifelong feud between now-adult siblings that everyone hopes won’t surface in 2017.
Tip 5: If Someone Is New To The Table, Do Whatever You Can To Make Her Or Him Feel Welcome
Beyond the host or hostess, the “new person” is likely to be the most uncomfortable, nervous individual in the room. That’s because this individual usually only knows the boyfriend, girlfriend or “friend” who convinced him or her to enjoy a generations-old family tradition with someone else’s family. Also, depending on the situation, there could be all kinds of unspoken questions or pressures around this person and his or her relationship with the family member – exacerbating the tension.
So a simple smile and some neutral conversation (avoiding politics, relationships, sports, or religion) could go a long way to help this person (and everyone with a thousand questions) to feel more at ease.
Usually asking something about the kind of TV shows or movies the new person likes can serve as a helpful icebreaker. And it will encourage others to chime in about something that’s not (usually) emotionally charged. Beyond that, TV and movies are multi-generational, so almost everyone can participate in that conversation.
Tip 6: Assign One Adult To Pour All Wine & Champagne
You knew this was coming. The No. 1 factor that can turn a nice family gathering (or Friendsgiving) into a dinner you wish had never happened is alcohol. At the same time, you want this to be a celebration and many adults equate that with champagne, wine and even mixed drinks.
So the answer is to have one responsible adult pour all of the alcohol and cut people off at two servings. Now, some people might be miffed if they can’t have three glasses of champagne, but (truth be told) those are often the people who will be most likely to cause trouble if they’re inebriated.
I hope these tips help to ensure that your Thanksgiving is a wonderful, less stressful time with family and/or friends. Ultimately, a good holiday feast is all about making great memories for everyone — especially the younger people at the table. Hopefully, they will try to replicate these memories as they get older.
The more we can demonstrate what a good Thanksgiving looks and feels like, the better (and easier) future Thanksgivings will be for everyone involved.
Wishing you, your friends, and your family the Best Thanksgiving Yet in 2017!