Throwing a Holiday Party?

10 mistakes that can gobble your holiday cheer.

Posted Nov 06, 2019

Terren in Virginia, Flickr, CC 2.0
Source: Terren in Virginia, Flickr, CC 2.0

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s tend to be filled with hope for fun and connection, but sometimes those high expectations are far from met. If you're throwing a holiday party, avoiding these “turkeys” should help.

Not starting your list early. Starting early gives you time to remember if you forget someone important. So make your list now: Think through everyone you might invite. You’re less likely to forget someone if you do it in a structured way: For example, start with your friends, then family, then people in your worklife, and recreational life.

Waiting too late to send the invitations. That increases the chance that people will have made other plans. Exception: people you feel you have to invite but would rather didn’t come. With such people, you can perhaps wait until a week before Thanksgiving without generating undue ire.

Inviting the wrong people. Often, there are one or two people you’re expected to invite but who bring too great a danger of ruining the festivities. Perhaps it’s that uncle who won’t relent in his educating everyone about his politics' wisdom. Or the aunt who gets so intoxicated that she dominates in an embarrassing way. Or maybe it’s someone who is gasoline to another invitee’s match—It could explode.

If you’re worried about two people blowing up, might you invite one to Thanksgiving, the other to a Christmas or New Year’s party? How would you feel about lying to that person, saying that you’re not hosting Thanksgiving this year? No because of the ethics? No because s/he’d find out? Or is it a white lie that, in the cosmic scheme of things, is a wise approach?

Taking on too much work. Some people enjoy making an all-out Thanksgiving — a panoply of homemade hot hors d'oeuvres, a turkey with all the trimmings, and two different homemade pies. And yes, that makes people feel very welcome. But if that makes you feel frazzled and unable to enjoy the party, that toll may not be worth it.

In that case, do you want to make it potluck? Or a compromise: You make the turkey and let others bring the sides and appetizers? Or have Thanksgiving delivered; for example, the Boston Market Thanksgiving—delish for about $12 a person? (I am not paid by Boston Market or anyone to mention products. I simply have had a good experience with Boston Market's Thanksgiving feast.)

Too-loud music. True, some people get off on a loud environment, but most people prefer soft to moderate music, both because it’s more relaxing and because they don't have to yell to be heard.

Lack of activities. At most parties, things lull after an hour or so. It helps to have an activity or two. Of course, there’s the traditional one: Go around the table and say something you’re grateful for, or the variant I like because it tends to trigger fresher ideas: “What’s a person, place, thing, food, or anything else you’re grateful for?”

Also, between the main course and dessert, you might get people out of their chairs with a Turkey Day scavenger hunt:

Divide your guests into teams of two to four people and give each team a list of the five items you’ve hidden around the house, the block, or even the neighborhood.  If you have, say, four groups, hide four of each item.

If you’re worried about the weather, make it a driveable scavenger hunt. Or if you don’t mind people traipsing around at least part of your home, do it there.

Items I’ll be using this year:

  • Feathers, available cheap online.
  • Arrowheads, also cheap online.
  • A paper turkey colored by the invited kids and adults
  • A paper scarecrow similarly colored.
  • A cob of Indian corn or, if not available where you shop, candy corn.

If you want to add a little brainy challenge, instead of listing the item, provide a clue to what it is and where it’s hidden. Here are the clues I’ll be providing:

  • For the feathers, which I’ll hide under the doormat, I’ll write, “It’s a lightweight and so are you, birdbrain, if you don’t search for it underneath this item. After all, it’s the first thing you saw here today.”
  • For the arrowheads, which I’ll hide in the mailbox: “You certainly don’t want this delivered, especially into your head or heart.”
  • For the paper scarecrows, which I’ll hide in a cabinet on the kitchen’s right side, I’ll write, “Dare you look inside the right door, you’ll get scared, caw-caw!”
  • For the Indian corn, which I’ll hang on a tree in the backyard, I’ll write, “Who said corn doesn’t grow on trees?”
  • For the paper turkeys, which I’ll attach to the front page of a newspaper, I’ll write, “It would be news to me if you were such a turkey that you’d try to roast this bird.”

Unnecessarily fattening and guilt-inducing. People end up feeling guilty (and a couple pounds heavier) for having overeaten at a holiday meal. No one’s saying you should serve steamed tofu instead of stuffing, but the Internet makes it easy to find lower-calorie yet delicious versions of holiday favorites. For example, just Google “Healthy Thanksgiving Recipes.” And alongside the calorific items—say, your whipped-cream pecan pie—it couldn’t hurt to put out some fresh fruit and sherbet.

Avoiding awkward questions. Often, there’s a friend or family member who’s having a tough time: unemployed, divorced, lost a loved one, a substance abuse problem. On one hand, if you don’t ask about it, you seem uncaring, but if you do, you’re potentially embarrassing. Of course, every situation is different, but a rule of thumb is, when people are milling around, watching the football game, etc., and you see an opportunity to speak privately with the person, gently ask if it’s okay to ask about the issue, for example, “I know you’ve been going through a divorce. Do you feel like telling me how it’s going, or would you rather not?”

Not nipping a problem person in the bud. As mentioned earlier, there’s often one or two invitees who are high-risk for disrupting the party. As appropriate, defer or don’t offer the person alcohol, especially strong stuff. As you see them start to cause a problem, tactfully intervene. That could be as simple as distracting the person, “Hey, I just got this cool X. You want to see it?” If stronger measures are needed, you might take the person aside and ask “I’m wondering if you’re at risk of saying or doing something you’ll regret later. What do you think?”

Ignoring impaired driving risk. As you’re saying goodbye to your guests, try to assess if someone will be driving whom you sense shouldn’t. If so, ask a sober person, perhaps the person’s partner, what s/he thinks.

I hope that one or more of these tips can make your Thanksgiving something that you can indeed be thankful for.

I read this aloud on YouTube.