The Do’s & Don’ts of Thanksgiving Etiquette

Thanksgiving is a special time where we give thanks for everything and everyone in our lives.  But when family and friends who don’t see each other very often gather for the yearly feast and celebration, sometimes things get strange and awkward.  How do you shut down those prying questions or handle a rogue guest? 

Sharon Schweitzer, an international etiquette expert, author, and found of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, offers these tips to make this Thanksgiving the best ever.   

Seating Plan & Place Cards: As the host, keep the cast of family, friends, distant relatives, neighbors, and old friends in line with a seating plan. Seat introverts next to out-going guests and elders adjacent to youngsters. It’s acceptable to split married couples but not newlyweds. Place cards may range from simple and handmade to fancy. 

Conversation Starters: As the host (hostess), you want the attitude of gratitude at your table and to keep the conversation flowing smoothly. Plan interesting conversation starters for your guests. For example, ‘What are you grateful for this year?’ Other examples include upcoming or past travel, musical events, bestselling books, newly released movies, food, sports and holiday memories.

Prying Questions: Prying, personal questions can push all the wrong buttons. Two of the most popular offending questions continue to be: “Are you seeing anyone yet?” and “When are you going to give me grandkids?” Be prepared, and respond with humor so the questioner doesn’t sense a weak spot. ‘I avoid visiting about private topics at delicious holiday meals with more interesting things to discuss.’

Politics: Just say ‘no’ to conversations about politics and the presidential election season. Of course, avoiding Clinton-Kaine or Trump-Pence talk may be difficult just two weeks post-election, but biting your tongue may be a good idea if you don’t want to start a political brawl when everyone should be enjoying perfectly roasted turkey.  Do be up to date on current events, but avoid topics that fall under politics, religion or sex.

Rogue Guest: All hosts know the possibility of something going sideways exists when family, friends, and alcohol are involved during high-stress holidays. If a guest goes rogue, ranting about politics or family drama, be prepared with an immediate change to a safe topic like Aunt Lynn’s cranberry relish recipe or Uncle Ted’s sage dressing. If they continue unabated, politely ask if you can speak to them privately. When out of earshot and eyesight of other guests, acknowledge their concerns and advise them Thanksgiving isn’t the time or place. There’s no need to embarrass them in front of family and friends.

Toasting: As a host making a toast to the table, you can briefly reconfirm conversation no-no’s. Toasting etiquette states the entire table is welcome to drink. If you are toasted as a guest or host, do not raise your glass and drink. It’s like clapping for yourself. While clinking is fun, the preferred approach is to raise your glass, make eye contact and then take a sip. Finally, remember the 3 B’s of toasting: Begin, Be Brief and Be Seated. 

Know the Schedule of Events: As the host, set a Thanksgiving Day schedule so you and your guests may plan their day, and avoid chaos. As a visitor, ask in advance about the schedule so you may plan accordingly. If you arrive at 12, is dinner served at 1:00 or 3:00 p.m.? This allows you to plan to visit other friends and family, and avoid too much ‘together time.’

Games & Activities:  Physical activity is a great stress-reliever. As the host, plan a number of outside activities for your guests. Encourage them to engage in a flag football or soccer game, rake leaves or go on a neighborhood walk. Outdoor board games are always a hit with children and adults alike. 

As part of your Thanksgiving coverage this year, please consider using these tips from Sharon.  She is happy to elaborate or contribute in any way that would be a good fit for you.