By Jacqueline Church
We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. – Thornton Wilder
Too many of us have experienced holidays where grudges simmered right alongside the gravy and proverbial eggshells were strewn about the room. Which is why I decided a few years back to make Thanksgiving a tradition of welcome in my home. In my house, Thanksgiving is about open doors, open hearts and full plates (and football) whether we’re talking a crowd of four or forty.
At my Thanksgivings, everyone always has seconds and leftovers to go home and no one worries about their weight, or if their job is impressive enough, or whether their date measures up. Each person is welcomed just how they are, which is why each year’s gathering is so unique. There was the year a surprise toddler guest smeared butter on the wall. There was the time Catherine’s Artichoke Dip slipped right out of my hands and down the stairs and I had to turn to my neighbor’s stove for backup. One year a friend was in the midst of a separation . . . and then there was the mis-measured brining incident. Don’t even ask.
My Thanksgivings are never perfect, which is what makes them—ironically—perfect every year.
Whether it’s family, friends, or some combination of both, here are some of my tips for creating a welcoming atmosphere:
- Give Assignments Ahead of Time – It makes people feel a part of the gathering when they get to help shape it. Put someone in charge of bringing flowers, another of planning music. If you have friends who like to cook, parcel out some of the courses—I’ve taken to tucking my favorite recipes into a binder that I revisit year after year.
- Put People to Work – People feel more comfortable when they have something to do (and it’s a great way to break the ice between guests too). Put a few to work cutting crudites in the kitchen, ask others to light candles or set the table, or recruit someone to manage the bar before dinner.
- Mix it Up – Put away the china and silver and ask your guests to bring their own place settings (if it’s an especially large crowd, ask them to bring a chair too). Mixing things up actually helps people relax.
Jacqueline Church is an independent writer whose work has appeared in Culture: the Word on Cheese, Edible Santa Barbara, and John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet. She often writes about gourmet food, sustainability issues and the intersection of the two on her blog Leather District Gourmet. Currently, she’s at work on Pig Tales: a Love Story about heritage breed pigs and the farmers and chefs bringing them from farm to table.