Thanksgiving dinners can be a challenge, for cooks and guests alike. You know the deal: tempers flare, stress-levels peak, gravy spills, awkwardness abounds. There are things that can be done, however, to ensure the holiday meal goes as smoothly as possible. In fact, you need look no further than some of your favourite festive films for a handy how-to guide on what to do and not to do.
1. DON’T lose your temper
We all love our families but let’s face it, the expression “You can’t choose your family” exists for a reason: They can drive us pretty Brad-Pitt-in-12-Monkeys nutso sometimes. Especially when you pack all of them—along with their idiosyncrasies, bad jokes and cringe-worthy opinions—around a single table for Thanksgiving. Just remember: No matter how frustrated you get when sibling rivalries, or politically incorrect jokes emerge, don’t lose your cool Lester-style. Nobody wants asparagus juice wallpaper. Just take a breath and wash that frustration down with some gravy and mashed potatoes. Thanksgiving is about spending time with those who share your blood not breaking their dishware.
2. DO have fun: Sing. Dance.
It is universal truth that group singalongs and dance parties are the best. Who doesn’t want to shake their bon bon (that reference sounded better in our heads) when the cast of The Big Chill start grooving out to some oldies after dinner? And why not? Thanksgiving can be fun,after all. For some — like the people who slaved all day so you and others can stuff your bellies — may even need it to be fun. So, throw on some Taylor Swift, let a little loose and watch others jump in to sing and dance along…hopefully. Otherwise that would be really awkward.
3. DON’T bring up politics
We know it’s election season and all, but talking politics during Thanksgiving dinner is kind of like putting X-Lax in the turkey: It will ruin the meal and make everyone feel grumpy and sick. Especially if your family has its very own Michael Moore or Bill O’Reilly. So, however tempted you may be to talk about a certain federal election or Prime Minister or former mayor, you should resist. Take a lesson from Christina Ricci in Ice Storm: Political rants will put a bit of a damper on the evening. Your heart may be in the right place, but any horrible-state-of-the-world-type opinions can escalate quickly and are best saved for later. You, know when the carving knife has been cleared from the table.
4. DO play with your food
Yes, your parents spent years teaching you not to play with your food, but you’re an adult now and can basically do whatever you want. We’re not saying you should pull a Monica Geller and stick a turkey on your head, but why not channel your inner Charlie Chaplin and have some fun? Grab those bread rolls and do your best Princess Leia. Make a gravy smiley face in your mashed potatoes. Chaplin would approve.
5. DO keep dinner PG-rated
Maybe there are no kids at your table. Maybe you have the most understanding, open, say-whatever-you-want family and friends in the world. You should still resist talking about sex (or having it, for that matter). It’ll just make eating awkward and weird, because suddenly the whole table of food will feel like a minefield of potential sexual innuendos. Why would you want to do that to everyone? Keep it clean.
6. DON’T rush cutting the turkey
Cutting a turkey is not easy as it looks. There’s not only a lot of pressure around this ceremonial occasion, but it can be a logistical challenge. Where do you cut first? How big do you make the slices? (“Oh God, why can’t I get to the dark meat?!”) So, just take your time. Don’t get frustrated. If you do, that bird could go straight to your sister’s hips…literally. Amirite, Robert Downey Jr.?
7. DO check your guest’s allergies and dislikes before cooking
We may live in a golden age of delicious eats and culinary adventuring but we also live in a golden age of food allergies, intolerances and general persnickety behaviour. So, if you’re contributing to the Thanksgiving meal, be sure that you know what everyone’s food limits are. Otherwise you may find yourself with guests becoming bloated, breaking out into rashes, having faces swell to turkey-sized proportions, or just flat out fainting…even if you’re not serving monkey brains. (Rule No. 7a: Don’t serve monkey brains.)
8. DON’T tell certain stories
We all have family members, friends and in-laws we want to impress. A finely told story at dinner can make an entire evening; a badly told one can ruin an evening. That’s why, however eager you may be to win everyone one over with an awesome tale, you should take a moment to think if it’s a) an appropriate story, and b) a good one. That way, you’ll avoid, say, telling your father-in-law to-be about milking a cat when you Meet the Parents.
9. DO serve your Thanksgiving toast with a side of optimism
Thanksgiving speeches don’t need to be perfect. In fact, imperfection — such as fumbled words or Dad jokes — can actually make it better. You usually can’t mess it up too bad as long as you keep the focus on gratitude and save the existential crisis and thoughts about death and mortality for New Year’s. As long as your metaphorical gravy boat is more half-full than half-empty, you’ll be just fine.