A Smorgasbord of Sticky Social Situations

“Don’t blow your nose in the linen napkins.”

 – My mom when I asked for her thoughts on Thanksgiving etiquette.

Holidays can be tricky.  We experience high expectations, crunched time, commercial bombardment, and excessive extended family.  Now throw entertaining into the mix and it’s an etiquette smorgasbord of sticky social situations.  (I rarely have the opportunity to use the phrase “etiquette smorgasbord” and alliteration all in the same sentence!)  Not one to ignore the cries of the socially stressed, for the next few weeks I’m going to devote several posts to holiday etiquette. 

So, ever the timely blogger, let’s start with Thanksgiving questions I’m frequently asked. 

Should I bring a dish to contribute to Thanksgiving dinner? 

It’s best not to surprise your host with Great Aunt Edna’s Jell-O Surprise.  (Not that I don’t love a good Jell-O Surprise.)  Ask if you can bring a dish when you’re invited to dinner.  Most hosts will be grateful you asked and request a certain food to fill a hole in their menu.  However, if the host tells you “no thanks” then don’t bring food!  There really is such a thing as too much green bean casserole and there’s nothing worse than upstaging their homemade pumpkin pie with your pecan pie.  If you aren’t asked to bring a dish you should consider bringing a host or hostess gift.

Do I need to bring a host/hostess gift? 

A gift is a nice touch, especially considering all the work that goes into hosting a holiday dinner.  A host or hostess gift is a way of saying thank you.  (If you’re bringing a dish for dinner it can be considered your hostess gift!)  Hostess gifts don’t need to be expensive – it truly is the thought that counts.  Can’t come up with something creative?  Here are some fun suggestions.  A simple thank you note sent the next day will also do the job!

Who sits where?

Is everyone jockeying for position so they’re the farthest distance from the children’s table?  Place cards are amazing things.  Thoughtfully arranged place cards allow your more conversationally lively guests to be strategically placed.  Place cards can also ensure Great Aunt Edna isn’t sitting right beside a five-year old with cranberry-sauce covered hands.  Place cards don’t have to be formal and can be a fun way to show some creativity and involve the kids.  If you’re a guest, don’t switch your place card.  There’s a reason your host placed you there!  (Behave.  Great Aunt Edna’s watching.)

If there are no place cards or if everyone doesn’t sit around a table, be sure that children and elderly guests are seated first.  Great Aunt Edna should not be balancing her plate on her knees while sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce. 

Table Manners

Review basic courtesies and manners with your kids before you walk in the door!  Click here if you need a brief refresher on the basics.  Also, people tend to pull out their best linens, place settings, and silverware for Thanksgiving dinner.  Take extra care!

“Thank you.” 

“NO, thank YOU.”

Does the host need to send a thank you note for a hostess gift?  A hostess gift is essentially a thank you to the host, so the host only needs to send a note if he was unable to thank his guest in person. 

Do you need to write a thank you note to your hostess if you contributed to dinner or brought a gift?  No!  Your gift is your “thank you.”  (Although you are never wrong to send a thank you note.)

Is it acceptable to call or email your thanks?  Yes!  The important thing about gratitude is that it be expressed.  (Personally though, I think a handwritten note is a nice touch.)

And, finally, nothing says smorgasbord like the Swedish Chef. 

May your Thanksgiving be filled with golden turkeys, laughter, and elastic waistbands.

4 thoughts on “A Smorgasbord of Sticky Social Situations

  1. Thanks for this post, Amy…mostly common sense…(love your mom’s advice!).

    It never occurred to me that people would try to avoid sitting near the kids’ table! I got a giggle picturing Great Aunt Edna near the sticky five-year-old…

    I just had a conversation with Jim’s mom about hosting Christmas Dinner…I had done it at my house a couple of years ago, but she confided that it somehow didn’t feel like Christmas to her when she didn’t cook…so we’ll go to their house this year (although I’ll still cook Christmas Dinner at my place for our gang, including Kaylee and Scott…it might be on Boxing Day).

    Wendy

  2. Hi Amy-

    I can’t wait for the series! I forgot what a den of sticky social situations Thanksgiving can be.

    We had a very different type of Thanksgiving growing up in that my dad was a big food photographer. I’m going to write a post about it, but rule #1 was don’t eat ANYTHING until it was blessed. If you made a wrong move, you could have eaten a Turkey that has shellac on it. I kid you not.

    We also had a unspoken rule where my grandfather sat (at all occasions ) and he always started eating way before everyone was seated. We all gave him the “patriarch pass” on that one.

    My wish for everyone is that they dial the stress down like five notches and enjoy the day that we all gather together and give thanks.

    Please sound the dinner bell on this series for me.

    ~Mike

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