There was a time not long ago when the Thanksgiving Day meal was all about Family. Members of an immediate family would gather together, watch the parade on TV, eat the big meal and have sandwiches from the leftovers later that night. A few close relatives might show up early to help or just before mealtime and leave shortly afterward which was fine and expected, but no invitations were needed or necessary. Fast forward to today when the Thanksgiving Day meal is considered a big event by many people and a whole new complicated ball game. Who you invite to your holiday meal or the Thanksgiving Day feast you decide to attend can have immediate and even lasting social consequences.
Some say it started with extended families where the usual clear line of who was expected or invited to come to family Thanksgiving celebrations was blurred. Others claim that celebrities did the dirty deed by turning their holiday meals into pseudo-charity events which their closest friends and relatives were expected to attend with no exceptions. Either way, offering or accepting invitations to a Thanksgiving Day celebration has become a complicated process which requires a lot of forethought.
Let’s begin with offering invitations. If you are the host of a Thanksgiving meal, the last thing you want is a bunch of drama or hassles on the holiday. Begin your planning in late October with a long list of family members that you believe should or would want to be at your event. Make sure you take into consideration all the family dynamics, feuds and any past problems or uncomfortable situations created by mixing the wrong relatives together. Get feedback on your choices from influential family members that you trust. They may have the latest inside scoop on who is getting along and who is not that can help you make any final decision on which family members to invite and which ones you should exclude.
Once you have a good idea about who you plan to invite to your holiday meal, shorten that list by calling around to find out if your relatives already have their own plans or are willing to seriously commit to attending your holiday celebration. Once you have a short list of people who you’re sure will come, put it in writing by sending them an RSVP email, text or snail mail letter. I cannot tell you how many times I have had people tell me about situations where no-show family members told them later that they forgot they had that conversation just so they could accept an invitation from a romantic interest or a more influential relative.
Because there are so many single people out there today that have no relationships or strained ones with their closest relatives, a lot of Thanksgiving holiday meal hosts find themselves with a need to invite friends or even close coworkers to what would normally be just a family event. No one wants to be the holiday host that allows a friend or close coworker to eat a frozen turkey dinner or restaurant meal by themselves when they can invite those people to join their feast (and score a few personal points with them in the deal). However, those kinds of invitations require a lot of thought and a creative invitation process.
Most people do not want to admit that they will be alone or feel isolated on Thanksgiving for one reason or another, but at the same time they are probably hoping a friend or close coworker will find out about their situation and invite them over for the holiday meal and some much needed social interaction. That includes couples. Just because someone is single that does not mean they do not have a significant Other in their life. In some cases that Other might be as isolated from their family as their partner. Couples need love too on the holidays and might appreciate an invitation to a friendly holiday feast. When you invite singles, ask if they have someone special in their life that they may want to bring along.
Never make anyone you plan to invite feel like you are doing them a favor or just extending them an invitation to your holiday event because you feel sorry for them. Make the friends or close coworkers you plan to invite feel like their presence would be an asset and much appreciated by you and your family. If they accept your invitation it will be because you made them feel that they would be welcomed and not just invited. If they decline it will be because they have other plans and are not just embarrassed that you felt like you had to invite them because they might otherwise be alone on the holiday.
The biggest problem for the host who must make decisions about which non-family members to invite is to decide who will fit in and who will not. People that are able to mix well with others they have just met should be high anyone’s invitation list. Party Poopers who are likely to wander aimlessly around your house looking like they have just minutes to live and lack any social skills are non-starters, even if they happen to be good friends or close coworkers. You’ll never make people like that happy whether you invite them over for the holiday or not, so don’t even try. If you do, you will probably make your other guests miserable.
Another major problem that Holiday Hosts face is deciding the ratio of family members to invite, verses outsiders who will be attending their Thanksgiving Feast. At no time should you overwhelm immediate family members and close relatives with strangers. That will create a no-win situation for everyone including you. Personally, I would not want to spend the rest of my life having family members remind me of the Thanksgiving Day meal I ruined for them by having too many strangers in attendance. A wise host keeps the ratio at eighty per cent immediate family members and close relatives; twenty per cent everyone else.
The thing to remember about Thanksgiving Day meal invitations is that although your event is built around an iconic holiday, you are basically just inviting people to a dinner party that will tend to last a lot longer than most. Like all social occasions, the people you invite will make or break your event. It’s important to have the right mix of social movers and shakers, wall flowers, clowns and diplomats. Events take on a life of their own if they are not well planned and people tend to remember the best and worst of those they attend for years to come. If you take all these things into consideration, your Thanksgiving holiday celebration will really end up being something to celebrate.
If you find yourself in the not so unusual situation of being invited to attend more than one Thanksgiving Day feast, you have a big decision to make. No matter what your current job situation, friendship or romantic involvement may be, immediate family members and very close relatives should always get first dibs on your attendance. Employers, close coworkers, significant Others and friends come and go, but family members tend to be there for the long haul. It is unwise for anyone that is in good standing with their family to turn down an invitation to any holiday or special event to be with non-family members.
Sometimes declining a holiday meal invitation is harder than it should be. Most people who invite you over for their Thanksgiving Day feast will understand if you decline their invitation because you plan to have your own feast or have decided to attend one held by someone very close to you. However, that will not always be the case. Whether they are relatives, friends or close coworkers, some people who host holiday celebrations take them very seriously and declining an invitation from people like that can be very problematic.
There will always be people in your life that simply cannot take NO for an answer. When you find yourself invited to a holiday meal by someone like that, it’s time for some tough love. You just need to tell them you cannot attend and leave it at that. If you offer explanations or excuses, you are inviting them to try and talk you out of whatever reason you gave for not attending their event. I have been in situations like that and I can tell you that they will be relentless in trying to get you to change your mind. It’s like talking to a salesperson over the phone who has a thick looseleaf book of resolutions to any arguments or exceptions you offer against buying their product or service.
Once you make a decision about whether you will or will not accept a holiday meal invitation, stick to it! Never accept an invitation, then bow out because someone else who invited you later put undue pressure on you. Smart hosts begin inviting people to their Thanksgiving Day event by the end of October at the latest. People who call, text or email you a week before Thanksgiving expecting you to drop all your plans and attend their event are very poor planners. They have no one to blame but themselves when their invitations are summarily declined by you and others. So be smart, plan well, make the right holiday decisions and have a Happy Thanksgiving!