Thanksgiving-Hopping

Dear Helena,

My wife’s parents live nearby and we committed to spend Thanksgiving with them months ago. But now half my friends have decided that because of high airfares they’re not flying home this year. They’re staying in town and organizing dinners with each other instead. I’d rather go to one of those than spend the whole holiday listening to my father-in-law talking about his job as a copyright lawyer.

So I came up with the perfect solution: stop at one friend’s house for drinks, hit the in-laws, then cruise over to the other group of friends for dessert. My wife wants to see our friends as much as I do, but she thinks it’s rude to show up at her family’s house just for Thanksgiving dinner, even if we schedule a three-hour slot for it. What do you think? Is it OK to go to more than one Thanksgiving celebration in the same day?
—Friends Are More Fun

Dear Friends Are More Fun,

Thanksgiving-hopping is common nowadays. One reason is the high divorce rate. When parents host competing celebrations, it’s hard to choose one over the other. Kelley Buhles, a program manager in social finance in San Francisco, says: “My first double Thanksgiving, my sister and I went from a 2 p.m. dinner at my mom’s in Los Altos to a 6 p.m. dinner in Lafayette with my dad’s family. We only ate salad at the second dinner because we were so full, and got in trouble with our grandma for not eating enough. She had purposefully not been told we were on double duty that day.”

Double- or triple-booking might seem like a great way to please everyone—and yourself—but Thanksgiving-hopping may irritate your hosts. “Dropping in on my friends at the end has always pissed my mother off, as in her world Thanksgiving is a strictly family event,” says Buhles. If you stop by just for part of someone’s dinner, it means you won’t be much help with prep, serving, and cleaning up. Wolfing your food to get to your next commitment on time will insult the chef. Thanksgiving is the one dinner of the year when guests are pretty much required to take seconds. And if you leave while other people are still eating, you force them to interrupt their meal to say goodbye to you.

If the occasion were a normal dinner party, it would be OK to allocate a four-hour slot and make plans for later. But Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t always operate on schedule. The turkey might take longer than expected or relatives could be late.

Sure, spending six hours with your family (or with any group of intimates) can be boring and tense at times. But if you cut it short, you forgo important bonding opportunities. Sometimes people are so preoccupied preparing and serving the meal that it’s only after dinner that they are ready for relaxed conversation. Hunker down for the day, and you might find yourself warming to your father-in-law when he does all the dishes, or having a hilarious game of Celebrity with your mother-in-law. By contrast, if you show up at a friend’s place after dinner, you could end up feeling left out. Buhles usually tries to stop by a friend’s after celebrating with both parents, but comments: “Generally everyone is full and perhaps a little tipsy, and it’s just hard to get in on the vibe.”

The Pilgrims most likely didn’t double-book, and neither should you. If you’re torn between your friends and your family, or between different family members, there’s an easy way to have it all: Next year, offer to host.

Table Manners appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.