Thanksgiving is meant to be a day of giving thanks for all God’s blessings, according to Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation, but gratitude is a habit that requires some humility and willingness to think of others before self when making etiquette choices as a guest. Hosts can easily get entangled in the emotional details and logistics of pulling off a multi-course feast for a large group of people, meaning that a considerate guest can take some of the pressure off just using the manners their grandmother took for granted. The bottom line is that the guests’ job is to simplify the host’s job by doing whatever it takes to make it easier, instead of focusing only on selfish concerns. When every guest pitches in to help in one way or another, the focus can be on building and strengthening relationships and the turkey will taste better without the tinge of conflict in the air.
Guests should RSVP to an invitation as soon as possible and make sure the host knows any special dietary concerns or allergies as soon as they receive the invitation and offer to bring any specialized items they require so the cook does not have to go to any extra trouble over the request. Even if there are no dietary restrictions, good etiquette suggests that guests ask if there is anything they can bring. Even if the host declines at first, check back the day before Thanksgiving when he or she will have a clearer idea as to what items may be missing. Guests should bring their food in its own serving dish, ready-to-serve without assuming they will be able to use the host’s kitchen or utensils in the mad rush to coordinate dinner preparations.
Even if the host does not need or want help with the food, they would likely appreciate help with setup, cleanup, games, entertainment for the kids, helping an elderly relative or other such social and logistical details of throwing a Turkey Day party. Arriving on time for whatever they agree to help with will earn guests brownie points with harried hosts who are under pressure to get the feast on the table in a reasonable timeline that requires much organization. Remember that not all help is needed in the kitchen so guests should stick to the task they are assigned and stay out of the work zone so as not to be in the way of those in charge of Thanksgiving cooking.
Use the day for socializing with family and friends and keep your phone off and away as much as possible, unless you are taking pictures of the feast and the fellowship. Check email, Twitter, Facebook, texts and scores sparingly and never during dinner. Be a good listener, focus on people and show interest in their lives. Be considerate of other people’s feelings and views and avoid deliberately antagonizing other guests with heavy-handed speeches on your personal views of politics, religion or other controversial topics. If it is going to cause contention and bad feelings, there are other times that will work better for that conversation if it really needs to be said. Thanksgiving should be about bringing people together, not tearing their relationships apart.
Remember the old adage, “If you cannot say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Thanksgiving guests should never give unsolicited advice or negative feedback on the food or personal matters. Regardless of dry turkeys, over or under-seasoned stuffing, lumpy gravy or other culinary disasters, just take a pass and keep silent without complaining. Guests should take modest portions and not make a big drama out of how much they can eat, nor how little they are taking. Generally speaking, it is better for guests to be unobtrusive and not draw attention to themselves for inappropriate or overly loud conversation or the amount of food they eat or do not eat. Offer sincere compliments between mouthfuls and do not be stingy with the praise and appreciation for the bounty at the table and the labor of the cooks in preparing it, regardless of the results.
Offer to help clean up and thank the host. Thanksgiving produces a mountain of dishes, so the more hands helping clear the table and clean the kitchen, the sooner everyone can get to the enjoyable part of after-dinner socializing whether that involves football, board games, movies or conversation. Guests should take the lead from the host as to where their help will do the most good and pitch in with a good attitude and effort. A handwritten note, phone call, or email expresses gratitude for the host’s hospitality and generosity in providing the meal and the opportunity to socialize with family and friends. This small act of kindness not only honors the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, but also greases the wheels of good relationship, which is the more important point of good etiquette than the details of table setting, turkey, cranberry, stuffing and mashed potatoes.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Image courtesy of Dennis Crowley – Flickr License