Warning! There may be people headed to your house right now.
It’s Thanksgiving Day and they’re (hopefully) people you invited, but that doesn’t change the fact you’re probably already elbow-deep in turkey with heaps of sauerkraut, dressing and assorted desserts fighting for real estate on your stove and counters. You might be reading this during a break from mashing potatoes and cheesing macaroni. Once you’ve made all that food and set up your house, you still have to deal with the folks who are going to invade your space for a few hours.
And yes, it’s too late to cancel, order pizza and turn off all the lights so no one knows you’re home.
Even if you’re a Martha Stewart-level hostess, all that cooking and talking and serving and extra humans in your house can be a lot, not to mention the fact that we are still in a pandemic (yes, we are). You might need help with the specific kinds of guests coming through your door.
You’re in luck: I consulted hospitality expert, historian and speaker (and close friend) Rissa Miller, who ran Baltimore Vegan Drinks, a local rotating happy hour, for 10 years. She’s also the former senior editor of the Vegan Journal, which was previously called the Vegetarian Journal. (We also once cooked Thanksgiving dinner together in my house in York, Pennsylvania, so I know she knows what she’s talking about.)
Here’s some advice for navigating the assorted cast of holiday characters.
The guest who comes too early
Unless you’re close friends who’ve already cleared a different arrival time than the very deliberately chosen start on the invitation, I don’t love it when people show up in that last crucial hour of last-minute preparations, when I’m often still in yam-covered sweatpants. But “I love that person,” Miller said. “I put them to work. It’s kind of a gift to me. Anyone who wants to come and help me get ready is good.” And it doesn’t matter if that early arrival was a mistake. “If you’re gonna come at the actual wrong time, I’m definitely putting you to work,” she said.
The guest who comes too late
Miller’s response to holiday procrastinators is pretty simple: They should assume the party’s gone on without them. “I say, ‘Please serve yourself. We’ve already had that course.’ Again, if you’re coming at the wrong time, you can’t expect the same experience as someone who appeared with some punctuality. I’m never upset, but I want them to accept and respect the time of others,” she said. Seems fair. My mother and I used to host a Christmas Eve open house and enjoyed the people who stopped by on their way home from other parties or a late shift. They knew a lot of the food was gone and just wanted to bask in some holiday cheer for a few moments. Very Christmas-y. Just remember: “Open house” means you can drop by any time within the designated hours. “Dinner at 5 p.m.″ means “There might not be any green bean casserole at 5:45. Dawdle at your own risk.”
The guest who brings their own food
I’ve heard of people passive-aggressively doing this as a signal that they really don’t like or trust the cook, and you can keep you and your special dish at home, MYRTLE. But some guests might have dietary restrictions for religious, health or ideological reasons. If you’re expecting those folks ahead of time, it’s good to have prepared something you know they can eat. In the case of Miller, who has been vegan almost 30 years, “I always plan to share. If you’re going to bring your own food, bring enough for others to try. I’m also open-minded about questions” people may have about the dish. As a host, Miller said she “wouldn’t be offended. I would assume they have their reasons [for having their own dinner], so I just give them their fork and let them do their thing.”
The guest who complains about everything
I’ve hosted persnickety partiers, and boy, are they a lot of fun. (They are not.) Miller said her approach “depends on if I ever have to see them again. At Thanksgiving, you’re supposed to be reflecting on what to be grateful for, and it’s hard to focus on the needs of people who are not gracious. It does get under your skin if they don’t contribute, don’t bring a gift.” If you’re gonna be a pain, you better roll up those sleeves and wash some plates. Or don’t be a pain and wash some plates anyway.
“You pull them aside, and ask them why they’re raining on the parade of others. Deal with it privately,” Miller suggested. But deal with it you must. And you can’t throw dressing and banana pudding at them. It’s rude and a waste of good banana pudding.
Guests who bring other guests without telling you
I have always thought that “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” was the ultimate holiday fail. Peppermint Patty not only invites herself over to the Browns for Thanksgiving, but brings a bunch of randoms with her and then gets mad that “Chuck” doesn’t have a turkey ready. I’d have chucked her in the pool, but Miller is a more gracious host than me. “I’ve had that happen more than one time, and usually you just make room. I’m pretty good at rolling with whatever comes. They’re going to be grateful for a seat at the table, and you go from there.” And yes, like Charlie Brown, Miller said that “sometimes a lawn chair has to come out of a storage closet.” OK. But if I have to serve you toast and popcorn like Snoopy because I don’t have enough food, that’s on you.
The guest who won’t leave
At one of my parents’ Christmas Eve parties, we had guests that arrived late and stayed so long my 70-year-old grandmother had to publicly announce she was going to bed for them to get the hint to go home. Miller deals with the lingering lot the way she deals with rude people. “I’m usually very direct, especially if they’re not helping with cleanup and they’re preventing me from going to bed. I say, ‘Look, it was so great to catch up with you, and I hope to do it again sometime,’” making it clear that that sometime IS NOT NOW. “Picking up on cues is a beautiful art,” she said. “That happened with Baltimore Vegan Drinks, when we had to ask people to leave. It wasn’t personal. The event was over, and you need to go home.”
Or, as Semisonic said, it’s closing time, and you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.