Have you ever been invited to Thanksgiving dinner and spent countless hours stuck in the "to bring or not to bring" dilemma?

Well, buckle up, my fellow festive friends, as we delve into the wild world of Thanksgiving etiquette and unravel this age-old mystery once and for all.

Prepare yourself for a feast of wit and wisdom (and possibly some experimental kale salad, courtesy of Aunt Mildred). 🙄

There are three main options when it comes to being a good "turkey day" guest:

  • Bring some delectable food
  • Find the perfect gift
  • Procure a palate-pleasing beverage

If you dare to arrive empty-handed, be warned: you may be risking a lifetime of whispered gossip and side-eye glances from more than one judgmental cousin or Miss Manners herself!

So, let's take a look at each option and find out when and if it's acceptable to ride the empty-handed train to a dinner party on Thanksgiving.

1. Food: The Savior of the Stressed-Out Host

We all remember that time Aunt Mildred showed up with her experimental kale salad to the communal meal at Thanksgiving, leaving us eyeing the bowl skeptically while trying to avoid choking hazards.

While kale will never be the new cranberry sauce, if you prepare food, it may lighten the load and can be a lifesaver for the hard-working host who is preparing all the food for this holiday meal.

But there’s a catch – you must know the expected culinary standards and your culinary limitations!

If you can barely toast bread without scorching the kitchen, then it's best to bring food. Stick to bakery (not store-bought) pies or pre-made appetizers.

However, if you're not sure if you should contribute a dish, simply ask your host.

They might be juggling the mighty art of cooking, serving, and entertaining guests, so consider their answer a beacon of light guiding you through the treacherous waters of Thanksgiving etiquette.

However, if they say don't bring any food - Make sure you don't!

Though this is not the usual Thanksgiving kitchen complaint, there may be several reasons why your hosts insist on you not adding to the menu. Perhaps your hosts' carefully planned arrangements were intended for family members to not bring food which can make for complicated menu assignments sure to drive your hosts crazy!

But What if I Have Food Allergies?

If you find that the menu for this Thanksgiving's communal meal - which is at someone else's house - will not comply with your food allergies - then, by all means, bring your own food.

Show your Thanksgiving manners by letting your host and hostess know so they don't feel awkward or feel they have to go out of their way to cook two separate meals.

In my experience - I have Gluten issues, I found that:

  • When I told the host ahead of time, they would go out of their way to cook something gluten-free, against my express wishes.
  • When I didn't mention it beforehand, and I showed up with my own food, it became no big deal. It was actually better because I made GF food that went with the Thanksgiving menu and family members couldn't tell I was eating something completely different from everybody else. I feel that some GF people would prefer to bring their own food (we're looking at you, delicious stuffing) just to be safe.

However, if you know the host or hostess and you can freely discuss the menu beforehand, you will know exactly what you can or can't eat and what to bring. If you make enough to share and no one else eats it - then you get leftovers! It's a win-win.

Many hosts will lovingly oblige to give you your own small kitchen space or dining room space, so your food does not get contaminated with the food of the other guests during the Thanksgiving gathering.

After all, they wouldn't want you going hungry or leaving early for no apparent reason. It's not like you can easily escape to a nice restaurant for your Thanksgiving meal, right?! And we think Miss Manners would agree.

Judith Martin, Miss Manners, Photo by: Kay Chernush - https://www.columnists.com/2014/11/judith-martin-lifetime-achievement-miss-manners/

2. Dear Miss Manners, Is a Gift a Good Idea?

When you don't contribute to the dinner party meal, what can you bring?

Now, if you still prefer showing up bearing more than a smile, consider bestowing a thoughtful Hostess Gift upon your gracious hosts.

Whether it's a festive centerpiece, a gourmet cheese board, or some "in case of emergency" leftover containers, give something that reflects your host's interests or fills a need.

But remember, a regifted fruitcake has about the same success rate as launching a pumpkin catapult in the living room - so resist the temptation - you can always use the fruitcake as a doorstopper at home.

What would dear Miss Manners say?

We think she would start by saying, Dear Gentle Reader, and then something like this:

I receive countless letters with questions about the appropriate gift to bring to a Thanksgiving dinner, especially from those who feel they might perish if they show up empty-handed.

Here's my tried-and-true advice: consider a hostess gift.

Not only does it show appreciation, but it also ensures you don’t arrive empty-handed, should that be a matter of personal pride.

For those who feel compelled to not show up without something in hand, there are options that steer clear of the food category.

Bring flowers. For instance, flowers can brighten any room and bring an added touch of color. Just remember to bring them in a vase - your host is busy enough without having to hunt for one.

If flowers aren't quite your style, a box of gourmet chocolates or candies can be a sweet treat for your hosts to enjoy later.

Or if you prefer, a nice bottle of wine can be a royally good choice. While it's true that one bottle may not be enough for a dozen people at the dinner party and it may not pair perfectly with the meal, it's definitely a treat your hosts can savor later.

Remember, it's the thought that counts. And feel gratitude for your hosts' hospitable request to leave the cooking to them. Happy Thanksgiving!

Best Regards,

3. Thanksgiving Dinner's Beverage: Liquid Luck for the Weary

What could possibly top off the perfect Thanksgiving feast better than a perfectly paired wine, a seasonal craft beer, or some sparkling cider?

It's a universal truth that no one ever complains about an abundance of drinks.

Unless, of course, Uncle Joe pulls out his "secret stash" of home-brewed moonshine that could potentially double as lawnmower fuel. We're glad he's never hosted Thanksgiving!

The bottom line: We think Miss Manners would say,

Dear Gentle Reader, and then something like this:

Though not all guests will imbibe at the dinner table, it's considered polite to bring a favorite drink to share as long as you bring enough for all the relatives and guests should they want a sip.

Though Miss Manners would be much more eloquent - you get the idea.

A Small Gesture at Thanksgiving Dinner Goes a Long Way

So, is it rude to show up empty-handed at Thanksgiving? In the grand "gobble" scheme of things, it's always better to err on the side of contribution.

Whether it's a dish, a gift, or a beverage, a little gesture of gratitude will go a long way.

Remember, the convivial spirit of Thanksgiving is all about counting your blessings, giving thanks, and showing appreciation for those around you.

Always remember to show gratitude and appreciation for your host's hard work and hospitality on this special holiday.

And most importantly, enjoy the food, the company, and the celebration of Thanksgiving!

So, in true Miss Manners style: bring your appetite, a smile, and some small token of appreciation to make this Thanksgiving Holiday dinner extra special for everyone involved.

Happy Thanksgiving!

P.S: Don't forget to offer to help with the dishes after the meal - it's not only polite but also gives you an excuse for avoiding Uncle Joe's questionable moonshine. Cheers!

And remember:

Mother Hosts Christmas Dinner Next Month!


The Great Debate: Should Everyone Bring a Dish to Thanksgiving?
Think Thanksgiving couldn’t get more entertaining? Let’s stir the pot and dive into the controversy surrounding the age-old Thanksgiving potluck debate! It’s kind of a big deal. Ahhh, Thanksgiving – the holiday that blesses us with feasts, family, and the inevitable food coma. As we gather around…


Share this post