10 Tips for Bringing a Date to Thanksgiving Dinner Slideshow
November 15, 2012
To Bring a Date or Not?
"Each relationship is different and this should be taken into consideration," Sena advises on deciding whether to invite your date. Sena suggests starting with yourself and really thinking about what bringing a date to a family holiday will mean to for you and your relationship. After all, what you consider a casual thing may completely change after bringing family into the equation.
Speaking of family, will it be OK for them? Is an invitation even extended? Since holidays can be considered "sacred," unfamiliar outsiders may be very unwelcome. And although Thanksgiving may seem like a staple holiday for you and your turkey-gobbling family, not everyone may have been exposed to it growing up. But if you both are on the same page, go ahead and take the next step by inviting your new favorite person to dinner.
Thanksgiving Prep Step: Before you sit down with family for the big meet up, make sure to break bread with your date beforehand. It is a great way to practice dinner conversation and get a feel for who your date is around the table.
When you open your loved one’s door on Thanksgiving Day and show up with an unknown person rather than a pumpkin pie, the festive mood can swiftly shift to a wary one. "Do let your family know so that your date feels included from the get go," says Sena. "Having a place set at the table instead of on the spot makes all the difference for your date and the host/hostess." Plus, it never hurts to brief your loved ones about your new relationship — it helps move conversation along and makes your guest feel welcomed. But also be prepared for it to get intense.
"If you’ve just started dating, be prepared for 20 questions from Aunt Suzy, who doesn’t know a thing and can’t wait to dish the latest family gossip." Sena generally suggests that keeping a rein on the conversation and politely guiding it will help you and your date weather the Thanksgiving Inquisition.
Thanksgiving Prep Step: While it is good to be ready for the worst — especially if your family is on the crazy side — overwhelming your date with warnings could be off-putting. "Your date will gather his/her impression from the cast of characters," says Sena. "Give them a heads up only if you have real concerns. Enjoy yourselves. Stay in the moment." With simple family holiday etiquette tips, keeping the conversation safe should be easy for all
Bring Something Extra
"Listen to your mother’s words of wisdom: 'Never go to visit someone’s home empty-handed,'" Sena forewarns — even if you are going to mom’s house. The truth is, the holidays go a lot smoother with a little helping hand. Pick out a hostess gift with your partner that will show how grateful you both are for having them. And if you lack the handmade gift-giving gene, "chocolates, wine, specialty foods, or flowers make lovely gifts," suggests Sena. "Remember, should you bring flowers, make sure they are already in a vase so that the host/hostess doesn’t have to stop entertaining to look for one."
Thanksgiving Prep Step: Wine and holidays often go hand in hand. While it may be a challenge to choose a wine, presenting it in a fun, classy way is a piece of cake. Instead of placing it in a poorly done mess of wrapping paper and tape, try buying a simple, single bottle wine holder for a double-whammy present.
Dealing With Drinking
We all know holiday drinking can lead a crowd down two paths. The first is a jovial descent into giggles and relaxed banter. The second often involves embarrassment and brashness that can turn your date right off to your whole family. "We have all had the occasional uncle who drank a little more than he should have," Sena points out. She suggests handling it by either "trying to diffuse the situation or gracefully removing you and your date to another area of interest." On the opposite end, be it nerves or feeling too comfortable too fast, you could find your date being the one who is leading the charge down road two. Should you find yourself heading down that path, Sena suggests you "re-route course by offering a soft drink or water, and this may be the time to bid your farewells until next time."
Thanksgiving Prep Step: Of course, if you have a family of drinking connoisseurs and football lovers, bringing a fitting beer may be a great way to break the ice and show off what great taste your new partner has.
As a typical carnivore, it may not even faze you to worry about your date chowing down with the family on a delicious bacon-wrapped turkey. But believe it or not, some people do not eat meat — no reason to have a panic attack. "Most gracious vegetarians score a good first impression by making do with whatever is offered," assures Sena, so there is no need to make your mom panic about making a side tofurkey. "If the meal is served family style, when it’s their turn, no meat on the plate and a little extra vegetables works for everyone." It is however, a great idea to warn your host about any food allergies that your date may have, as a trip to the emergency room is no way to end a family meal.
Thanksgiving Prep Step: If your date does happen to be vegetarian, there are ways to prep your family to be respectful of it. While they are not expected to prep a massive amount of alternatives, it is good to brief them on etiquette to ensure you and your date are not uncomfortable.
Include Your Partner
From saying "Grace" to watching certain flicks, every family has a "thing" they have to do around the holidays. But just because your date is new, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be informed. "If your family has a sacred tradition or family activity, no worries, give your date a heads up before you arrive and a way out if he/she would rather not participate, even if it means you sit out this time around," says Sena. "When you bring someone in from the outside of the circle, remember it’s not about you! Most dates are eager to chime right in and join the fun."
Try to remember how you would feel in your date’s shoes; after all, spending a holiday with strangers is no easy task. While your date has obviously shown they want to impress your family just by showing up, sometimes interaction doesn’t happen naturally. It is important that since they made the effort to be there, you make the effort to make them feel welcome. "While it’s easy at a gathering to become the storyteller, ease your date into the conversation with a topic of interest your date is connected to. This will allow them the opportunity to engage with confidence and feel part of the conversation," Sena says.
Thanksgiving Prep Step: While the icebreaker game days of elementary school are long gone, making a small plan to steer the after dinner chat is always a good idea. If it can be interjected naturally, there are plenty of conversation starters you can rely on to get everyone through the holiday unscathed.
If you have a family filled to the brim with little ones, it would be a good idea to prepare your date for them- — especially if they are adorably devilish. "Does your date already have little people in their core family?" Sena asks. "If not, they may not be as comfortable as you are. Take the lead and see if he/she follows with ease. If not, let it go — not everyone is child-ready at a moment’s notice, especially with strangers." There is, after all, a reason why the kiddie table exists. On the flip side, Sena warns, if they are too good at entertaining the kids, children are often apt to overwhelm a newcomer that showers them with affection. "Be prepared to rescue them from a job well done of entertaining," Sena warns.
Thanksgiving Prep Step: With a scary amount of food and a few awkward silences, nodding off and sleeping this special day away is very possible. Why not play a few games with the whole family (including kids) to keep everyone engaged and at ease?
In some houses, Thanksgiving means jerseys and sweatpants to make more room for food. In others, attending dinner means putting on your best sports coat and dress shoes. Whatever the case may be for your family, do not assume that your date will know exactly what to wear. "This is my personal pet peeve — please let me know in advance what the dress code of the event is," says Sena. "If it’s not clearly stated, call the host/hostess so you’re dressed accordingly as well. Have the conversation with your date when you extend the invitation. There is nothing more embarrassing then when you say casual, I say formal, and my debut is met with a fashion emergency." Remember your date wants to be seen in the best light possible — especially if you two are starting to get serious. Being fair to them saves everyone a few awkward moments.
Thanksgiving Prep Step: Maybe your potential hostess is a total planning party guru and sent out invitations to T-Day for the sheer fun of it. But even the most seasoned host may be guilty of being vague about the dress code. Fear not, fashion-conscious friends: We have a few tips for how to decode your next invitation for a stress free good time.
Manage Your Time
Keep in mind — bringing a date to a holiday party is a huge responsibility. The second your date accepts the invitation, you become responsible for their good time. Spending time with both your date and your family is a not a hard task, so long as you are mindful of the time, especially if you are swinging by your date’s family get together later on. "Be forthcoming when you R.S.V.P. This lets the host/hostess know in advance you’ll be slipping out and they will not be offended that you’re departing earlier than expected," Sena says. "People are most understanding when you’re honest. Allow yourself time for long goodbyes as your date will be awaiting you."
Thanksgiving Prep Step: Meeting "in-law" types is a challenge every new couple has to face. The good news is we have tips for how to deal with them in case you do find yourself in your date’s shoes by the end of the night.
You brought the gifts, you monitored the alcohol, you prepared everyone in every possible way — and still you could not keep a tight leash on the crazy that your family creates. Rather than melting down, try and correct the situation as soon as possible. "This can be an overwhelming day to begin with for some; if alcohol is part of the equation then this only heightens the senses both good and bad. Know when to go; your date doesn’t need to see the family laundry getting hung on the line," Sena says. Your date will be taking cues from your attitude toward these situations; it is important to lead by example.
Thanksgiving Prep Step: Remember, you do actually love the people who are driving you crazy. Everyone has someone in their lives that makes things difficult for them, so it's more than likely your date can handle some fighting. Just be ready to make a quick exit before it gets ugly.