I have spent more than 10% of my Thanksgivings’ away from home and away from family. From studying abroad in college to the two years of my early 20s spent living the in the Middle East, I have somewhat removed Thanksgiving from the roster of mandatory holidays, without which my heart will break. What’s more, when away from home and family, as lovely as those things are, formality and tradition fade away and Thanksgiving becomes about the gathering. Those ragtag meals surrounded by friends of all nationalities have certainly been the most memorable of my life.
And so, when money is tight or family is too far or life simply gets in the way of your traditional Thanksgiving, why not try it with those around you? Neighbors don’t have to be old friends to share a meal, but there are a few tips that will help diffuse awkwardness and banish performance anxiety when it comes to the cooking
- Break with tradition. Shared experiences are more fun when you invent them together. There’s nothing that kills a party like strict adherence to the family dogma of a family not present. If turkey is too stressful, have chicken. Have wings! Give the day a Hawaiian theme and put pineapple in the stuffing (it pairs beautifully with rosemary) or nix the stuffing entirely. Taking the pressure off the table will free your mind and break the guests away from what they might be missing at their normal celebration.
- Make it an activity. If neighbors are also old friends, then bully. If not, a high activity food breaks the ice like no other. How about a crawfish boil? It sounds ambitious but requires little more than a stockpot in terms of equipment and newspaper for a serving dish. Any other crustacean will do just as well and don’t forget mollusks, ribs, and spiced shrimp! All messy, all delicious, all fun.
- Keep it light. Whether you’re hosting or just attending a neighborhood Thanksgiving, a “no sticklers allowed” policy is mandatory. Thrown together and casual should be the theme embraced by all. There should be no discussions of proper serving ware, no adherence to wine pairings, and no seating cards. Just let it happen.
- Open up. My family has never been one for speeches, storytelling, or overt signs of emotions (read: wasp). But my surrogate families have been just the opposite and all the more lovely for it. Going around the table and saying what you’re thankful for, breaking out the guitar and singing a few happy songs, or asking everyone to bring an inspiring quote can bring a group together and dismiss the awkwardness of acquaintance status. You’ll walk away exponentially closer than when you arrived and hopefully have more fun too!