So you’re off the hook this year. But you know your Thanksgiving host will probably be planning for weeks and cooking for days. So look at it this way: your job this Thanksgiving Day is to be a top-notch guest. But how?
The Spruce’s Megan McCarty says the way to begin is with empathy. Knowing that hosting the day can be overwhelming, your first job is to offer to help. McCarty cites experts in her piece on tips for being a great partaker of the feast.
“Thanksgiving is all about coming together, having conversation, and playing beautiful music in the background,” Jung Lee, founder of event planning firm Fête, tells The Spruce. “No one wants to be alone while prepping, and your host can always use an extra set of hands.”
Helping can mean anything from cooking, cleaning, child care for the cook, decorating, or offering to bring food. As long as you’re relieving your host from any duty, big or small, it’s all good.
“A bottle of red. A bottle of white. Perhaps a bottle of rose instead.” When Billy Joel wrote the lyrics to Scenes From an Italian restaurant, he surely must have meant to be telling us the minimum of what to bring to a Thanksgiving dinner. “Always contribute something (anything) to the meal or decor,” says McCarty. “After all, your host is creating an over-the-top meal and welcoming you into their home to celebrate the holiday together.” A small gesture goes a long way, so never arrive empty-handed.
Another idea? Ask your host if you can arrive early. “Bringing a dish to Thanksgiving dinner is great—but making that dish together, with music or a neck-and-neck football game playing in the background, is even better,” says McCarty. It can also serve as a time to catch up while you divide and conquer. If your host does not take you up on that offer or prefers you stay out of the fray, you can still sit across the kitchen island and be the best spectator ever, flattering him or her on their culinary expertise and even learning something new along the way.
One of McCarty’s experts suggests that if you can't cook together, ask your host if you can help delegate who is in charge of the cranberry sauce and who is bringing the pumpkin pie so that he or she isn't buried in cooking. A Thanksgiving Day assistant manager might be appreciated. And tell everyone that if they are bringing a dish, be sure to arrive with it ready-made, baked, or cooked ahead of time. Oven space is precious on Thanksgiving Day and the days leading up to it.
McCarty reminds us not to forget it’s a holiday of thanks. Even if you’re tempted to throw on your coziest sweatpants, remember you’re being welcomed into someone’s house on a day that comes but once a year. So dress accordingly — “even if your host is a long-time friend whose shoulder you’ve cried on, or your Aunt Debby, who changed your diapers way back when,” says McCarty.
An unexpected treat would be to bring a playlist you know your host and guests would love. “The right songs will set the right mood,” says McCarty. “Designate yourself DJ and compile a playlist of hits that span the decades, so all guests will feel the groove. Also great for clean-up time.
Last but not least, be old-fashioned about your thank you. While it may be easier and quicker to text or email your thanks, a handwritten thank you note is a much more meaningful token of your gratitude, demonstrating you made an effort to show your appreciation. Be specific, talking about the food, individual dishes, or the elegance and fun of the day when you write your note. Oh. And don’t forget that snail mail requires those things called stamps.