Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sitting Down with Turkeys?

Well, it's here. Thanksgiving, that is. Home For the Holidays provides an alarmingly accurate portrayal of family dysfunction on this most American observance.

Here are some questions that I have received recently that that deal with Turkey Day.

Dear Grace,
Both my husband's family and mine demand our presence for Thanksgiving. We can only be in one place at one time? How do I handle this without offending anybody...or everybody?

Grace Says:
The easiest solution here is to alternate years. Simple. Probably too simple. If you can't alternate, try one of these alternatives:

-Stay home. Invite friends and family if you wish. You don't have to make excuses, but if you feel "We just decided we wanted to stay home," will cause more probs than it's worth, try, "Travel is just so insanely expensive/difficult this year and our work schedules don't allow enough time to make the trip manageable." or "Our kids are at an age where travel is just impossible." The TSA's new rules support this position for sure.

-Offer up another holiday. This is an old tried-and-true. Do TG in one place, Christmas or Easter or Passover or Tet in the other. If a particular holiday is not up for consideration (for instance, Christmas to us means waking up in our house with our children and opening presents together), be clear about it from the onset and, if it's truly non-negotiable, be firm.

Dear Grace,
I'm a to-the-bone liberal Democrat; my parents and siblings are staunch conservative Republicans. Needless to say, putting us all around one table with too much food and drink can be a dangerous situation. How can I get through the evening without wanting to stick a serving fork into someone?

Grace Says:
The easiest solution is to avoid all political, religious, moral, etc. topics. A family that truly wishes to be together and happy will abide by this ban. You are well within your rights to demand civility at the TG table. If someone starts snarking it up, call him on it--you can do it with some levity: "Joe, I am calling unnecessary roughness on you for that comment; five yard penalty."

Dear Grace,
I don't like/won't eat what's being served. Can I ask the hosts to change the menu?

Grace says:
And no.

A good host asks potential guests if they have any allergies or major food issues and either makes sure there is a dish or two they can eat, or asks the guest to bring something for general consumption that also answers his/her dietary needs. If you are invited to dinner and the hosts don't ask, you have two choices:

-Cope. There's almost always something you can eat, even if the meal is heavy on the stuff you avoid. Either eat what's there or put a little food on the plate and pretend. A missed meal never hurt and the company is often far better than what is being served. Now, if you have such allergies or ethical issues that eating what is provided isn't an option, you may:

-Quietly and discreetly bring a small meal for yourself. Nothing large, complicated, smelly, or likely to make the other diners envious. Nothing that requires involved onsite preparation or special utensils. Tell the hosts as soon as you arrive, giving them the opportunity to serve your meal with the rest with as little fanfare as possible. Explain, apologize for any inconvenience, then keep quiet unless another diner asks why your soup is orange while his is purple. If pushed, say, "I am on a restrictive diet for a variety of reasons but I wouldn't dream of boring you with the details; how is your stamp collection/new home/French Poodle/recording career?" Whatever you do, don't be the guest expounding on the virtues of a vegan diet while the turkey is being carved.

Keep in mind, this is meant to be a day of gratitude and celebration. Try being thankful. For things large and small. Remember that even if it's apocryphal, the story goes that Pilgrims and Native Americans set aside their differences for a day, sharing food of their cultures and a few hours of peace and goodwill. If you can't do this; if you can't be flexible or impervious, or the situation or group you're going into is too difficult, stay home. It's just a day, folks. Better to spend it peacefully alone than in turmoil.

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