This year marks the very first time in 10 years that the immediate family Belz clan will be under our own roof for the holidays. After my mom passed away at the tail end of 2003, we were very graciously invited with open arms to other family celebrations for Thanksgiving. Family is great for this very reason — they knew we'd hit up the deli section at the sketchy, poorly lit convenience store up the street if they didn't offer us a few chairs at their table. Spending Thanksgiving away from home may not always be ideal, but sometimes it's also inevitable.
After my sister and I both got married and my sister gave birth to my incredible niece, my dad had a change of heart. "Let's celebrate here next year," he said exactly one day after Thanksgiving 2013. A lightbulb went off in his head as he saw the troops assemble back on common ground. As for me, images of pots and pans with 10 years worth of dust dashed through my head before I was overcome with what's possibly the best feeling of all time — relief.
I love Thanksgiving, and have always loved Thanksgiving, but there's something special about eating until you puke at your own home, rather than at a home you're not too familiar with — a home where you don't know where the bathrooms are, or whether or not you can make inappropriate jokes without the judgment or criticism of people who you care for, yet forget how you're related in the first place. "Oh, you're so and so's father's second wife. Hey! Thank you for inviting me, the stuffing was delicious."
These past few years, as families changed and grew, our final destination was somewhat up in the air until a week prior. We never complained, since we were happy that we were invited — but we definitely didn't know what we'd expect, and whether or not there'd be enough pumpkin pie for all. Especially since I eat a heck of a lot of pumpkin pie. Like, an incredibly sad amount.
Celebrating elsewhere is definitely an experience, especially if you're breaking normal tradition. Like all holidays, Thanksgiving is a celebration that everyone does differently. It's similar to the way you recoiled in disbelief after seeing another household rip open Christmas gifts all at once — it's not wrong, it's just slightly overwhelming.
That being said, I definitely think I'm a pro at eating the big meal elsewhere, and have some tips to get you through this emotional point where you're thankful, yet also a little bit uncomfortable.
1. Prepare your "This is the journey my life has taken!" speech prior to entering the door.
Thanksgiving is a time where you'll run into relatives that have only heard second-hand stories about you in the past few months. Hopefully they're all good stories.
The tried and true ice breaker of "how's life been?" is bound to come up, and you want to be prepared. If you flounder, you'll look like an underachiever. If you come on too strong, it looks like you're bragging. Think up two to three great points to summarize your year, and try to avoid any negative stories. For example, starting out with "my cat died" will ruin the entire spirit of the holiday.
Personally, I hate talking about myself, since I don't find myself to be too interesting. Relatives don't expect too much, but they expect something. As a guest, you should definitely deliver.
2. Never, ever comment negatively on the food. Or anything.
You didn't cook it, nor did you spend all day worrying about how it'd turn out. All you did was walk inside, say hello, and drink a bunch of wine that you didn't bring. Even if the food isn't to your liking, Thanksgiving is the time to remember how thankful you are that someone loves you enough to cook for you. If you feel the need to be smarmy, make comments on the car ride home, when you collect and share all of the family gossip you've uncovered with your immediate family.
3. Always sit directly across from someone you know.
Thanksgiving can be messy. Messy and delicious. To avoid feeling self conscious, make sure that you sit directly across from someone who won't care if your corn falls off your fork and into your lap, or who'll subtly signal to you that you have a chunk of turkey meat wedged between your teeth. It happens to all of us, but it's a much more enjoyable experience if you focus on the food and family, and not about how you might look while chowing down.
Even so, make sure to be on your best manners. After all, you're an adult, and you don't want your invitation to be rescinded next year based on eating like a toddler. As fun as that might be.
4. Stay silent if you don't agree with the specific family traditions.
Personally, I have no problem with holding hands and giving thanks to family and togetherness and turkey leftovers. As a child, we always said a prayer before sitting down to eat. It's not an unusual practice for me, and I feel like it definitely sets a tone before digging in. It brings the family together, and it shouldn't ever feel like a personal offense.
If the head of the table prays for things that you personally wouldn't pray for — if you're of the praying type — stay silent and realize that you're observing a whole new, personal tradition. Even if it's not a prayer, and it's totally something wacky you've never even witnessed before, like an interpretive dance during the time of carving, it's something you need to respect.
It's beautiful to see the way other branches of family celebrate, and the least you can do is take part, bow your head, and hope that your hair doesn't fall into some gravy. Remember, it ain't your house.
5. Don't get too drunk.
Nobody likes a drunk relative, especially if you're a weird drunk. If you have family beef, Thanksgiving is not the time to air it. Luckily, I've been able to avoid this scenario throughout my years, but I've heard stories. Horrible, horrible stories.
Wine is quite the popular drink of choice for Thanksgiving. While I love wine, I'm also fully aware that wine can make you cry super easily if you have one glass too many. Things are fun and randy, until you remember your aforementioned cat's death and let loose at the dinner table, since life is unfair and it's so awkward for you to celebrate a holiday knowing that Mittens is no longer with you. Especially since your aunt and uncle have a cat that's happily darting around the legs of the dinner table — don't they know how insensitive they're being, to flaunt their totally alive cat around? Monsters!
Make sure you're sober enough to have the proper emotions — happiness, love, appreciation over the fact that you're eating a great meal with your relatives, and massive stomach pain after sampling all of the pies.
All in all, everyone who has the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving has a lot to be thankful for, regardless of the venue.