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Thanksgiving Hosting Advice

I am looking for advice for hosting a thanksgiving feast next year.

Previously my mother has hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas eve, but my father is now gone so my sister and I are taking over.

I have a more formal layout to my home, so I agreed to host Thanksgiving and she will host Christmas Eve. That is not an issue. The issue is how to stop some rather odd issues I simply hadn’t anticipated. I am hoping for advice on how to nip them on the bud politely as my mother is a big stickler on being me remaining polite and I don’t want to start (another) family feud.

The house is an old Victorian with one door the front and two that lead into the side and back of the kitchen. Everyone walked around the house – passing by the front door where people in the living room were clearly visible (my in-laws were in the living room and the game was on the tv), and came in the side door into the kitchen where I was frantically cooking and really needed my space. Can I ask them to use the main door or even go back around without being rude? I have a large front porch and wood floors so it was not a matter of trying to spare the carpeting or anything.

Then came my sister’s spouse (A) and her mother in law (B). Her spouse demanded my husband hang up her coat, he was running about setting up so instead of serving her he politely directed her to the coat rack by the front door. A got pissed that he would not tend to her and literally threw her coat across the living room at the coat rack. Never mind we had the fireplace lit so that wasn’t safe for her property, it was exceptionally rude. What can I do to get them to use the front door and the coat rack like grown adults without inciting another tantrum?

While attempting to lay out dinner on the table people kept wandering into the kitchen. Is there a nice way to tell them to go away for 15 minutes? Should I post a guard? I can’t imagine why they thought that was the right time to send a young child into the kitchen asking for a different drink.

B then brought out a camera and proceeded to take pictures of everything, even when asked not to. She told me she was on a mission to take pictures of all the animals… I did not want nor ask her too but I was fine with that if it made her happy. What I wasn’t fine with was the stalking of the people that did not want pictures taken – including myself, my MIL, my husband, and my mother. I eventually asked her to stop because it felt like the paparazzi was fallowing me about and she told me ‘that was just the way it is’. I told her it was not that way in my home and we were in my home and it was making people uncomfortable. She put the camera down for about five minutes before resuming her reign of terror. My mother has told me she intends to tell her she is not invited if she brings the camera, but could I do anything to stop this? Everyone hated it and I feel bad that I couldn’t stop it.

My mother in law then tried to help so kindly by assisting with the dishes. I am still searching for my dishes (how do you hide a dozen water glasses? It has been almost a week and I still haven’t tracked them down!) What polite tricks does anyone have to share with me to nip that one in the bud? My knife block was positively barren but I have been discovering shears and knives all over the place!

I won’t go into the attitude A threw because it was her first time at our house even though she declined one dinner invitation already and we have only owned it for 7 months! I figure that battle is best ignored as A likes to be dramatic and it is easiest to not acknowledge her tantrums.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I have the cooking down pat, but handling family is like herding cats and I could use some helpful hints!

Thank you in advance for anything you have to give. 1128-17

{ 29 comments… add one }
  • Sarah November 5, 2018, 8:51 am

    Tell everyone this year you are going to a restaurant – everyone pays their own way.

    • original poster November 6, 2018, 10:31 am

      Fun fact – this is the route we went with.

      Some more drama happened with my sister in law and sister over the course of the year (they actually split us up at a family dinner and tried to talk us into breaking up – we eloped so this was a redo ceremony that they were invited to and we were footing the bill for but they thought this was the time to discuss what awful people we were) so we are not on the best of talking terms. I have offered the time and date and restaurant we wish to attend and asked that anyone that wishes to go should let me know by a set date so I can solidify the reservations. My in-laws only come every other year so they will not be visiting this year which made the decision easier. I did offer to pay for my mother (and a dear friend that is down and out at the moment) but other than that the invitation was clear that they would be paying. I just don’t care if they don’t like it, they can stay home and cook for themselves if they want. I really have no desire to see them. I didn’t last year either but my mother in law wanted to meet them and my mother was guilt tripping me. It was a mistake.

  • Michelle November 5, 2018, 9:10 am

    The best thing I ever did was stop inviting people who could not behave like adults. I understand traditions and your mother wanting you to remain polite, but there is difference between being polite and being a doormat. The lady taking pictures even after you asked her to stop? She would not be receiving an invitation again. I would have asked her once to stop, then told her to stop taking pictures or leave.

    People who use “family”, “tradition” and “that’s just the way it is” as excuses for bad behavior can take their behavior elsewhere because it won’t be at my home. The best thing I ever did was decide how I was going to allow people to treat me.

    • Some Passion Flower November 6, 2018, 9:19 am

      I wish there was a “Like” button here, because this comment is 100% correct.

      Also, I think there is a pretty decent chance your sister’s mother-in-law took those water glasses. My grandmother used to to that to my mother back when she hosted holiday meals. Would call her up the next day and say, “Hey, if you’re missing “xyz”, I have it!”

    • Kelly November 14, 2018, 3:37 pm

      It goes both ways when people use some variation on the words “family”, “tradition”, or “it’s always been this way”. It’s a classic passive aggressive guilt tripping mechanism that most people have seen some variations in their own family dynamics.

      My aunt is pissed that my dad, her youngest brother, decided that he didn’t want to go to her house for thanksgiving. It’ll just be my sister, him and myself, in addition to his favorite child, an elderly dog, and several cats. He has his reasons for not wanting to go to her house which is usually a five ring circus with her kids and grandkids plus their friends. We would rather have a more relaxed day with the dog who probably won’t be around next year at thanksgiving.

      His relationship with her has really cooled off in the past several months, mostly because of her antics. The tipping point was her refusing to stay at a family wedding because she was upset at where herself, her husband and one sister were seated – not with the rest of the family she was related to. She’s been estranged from most of the groom’s aunts, uncles, and grandparents, in part because of her actions during the disposal of my grandmother’s estate. Turns out, some people really don’t like it when you, one sister, and one brother start to take what you want from your mother’s house the day of her funeral. It was probably for the best considering that many people there were already somewhat drunk and really don’t like her.

      Even during my grandmother’s lifetime, she was paranoid that she wouldn’t get as much money so she advised my grandmother that it wasn’t necessary to have her estate and living trust redone after the death of another aunt. If my grandmother had revised both during her lifetime, it would have saved her sister who was the estate’s personal representative a lot of time in settling the estate and selling the house.

      Back to the wedding, she was really only invited to be polite. None of her kids or her other sister’s kids were invited as the last time they had maybe seen the groom was nearly 3 years at my grandmother’s funeral. The groom’s father admitted that the only reason that she and her sister were invited was because they had invited all the great aunts and uncles on his dad’s side of the family.

      My dad got the edited version of what happened from both myself and his sister, partially out of tact on our part. My sister who also loathes the bitchy aunt got the full version from my cousin and myself. Even hearing the tactful version, he thought she was being a petty brat. That impression was reinforced a couple weeks later when her and her husband arrived late to his house because apparently they had better, more special places to go before coming to his house. Since then, I don’t think he’s had much contact with her.

      She’s now trying to ask me why he declined her invite, why he’s acting cool to her, and what she could do differently. He’s made it clear that he doesn’t want her knowing more than generalities and I respect that. Both of us know that any slight criticism of her will result in World War III happening. My late mother commented that telling her that she can’t cook and she’s better off getting a pre-cooked meal from Whole Foods would cause the apocalypse.

  • AS November 6, 2018, 4:17 am

    Your house, your rules- learn to say “no”! People are disturbing you while you cook- tell them to go out, unless they want to help. MIL wants to help. Tell her to do things like bring in the dishes, wash them, wipe them, and you offer to put them out so that you can find them easily next time (say it with a smile).
    A is giving an attitude- don’t invite her. You definitely don’t have to invite your SIL’s MIL. If SIL is not happy about it, she can host her own thanksgiving.

    • ladyv21454 November 6, 2018, 11:58 am

      I read the original submission as B being OP’s sister’s mother-in-law – as A’s mother-in-law would be OP’s mom!

  • flora November 6, 2018, 8:09 am

    I’d keep the kitchen door locked and put a sign asking people to go around to the front and make themselves comfortable. Also a fridge or a cooler full of drinks will hopefully cut down on kitchen traffic.

    • Essess November 7, 2018, 10:41 am

      That was exactly my comment. Just lick that door and put a sign on it that the door is out of order (stops them from banging on it to be let in anyway) and direct them to the front door.
      As far as coats, it was rude to throw the coat, but a host really should take the guest coats for them.
      Put all the drinks in a cooler on the porch or other room outside the kitchen. Then you can direct children right back out.
      Anyone else in the kitchen should be put to work running errands that takes them back out of the kitchen or else gets told that you will not be able to continue cooking until they leave because they are in the way. Consider a lock on the kitchen door that you flip from inside the kitchen.
      So what if someone takes pictures unless she is getting in the way. If she is, tell her that you are busy and make loud announcements that dinner is delayed because she isn’t letting you cook. Let others make her stop.
      As far as dishes go, hide the dish soap and scrubbers before serving dinner.

      • HelenB November 8, 2018, 4:05 pm

        Well, licking the door is one way to deter people. 🙂

        We’ve been trying to stop my father-in law and mother-in-law from “helping” with the dishes, partly because it’s our house and they’re the guests, and partly because of the time when she dropped something in the sink and broke a significant number of our bowls.

        The last time they were over, we purposefully hid the dish soap. My MIL started trying to wash dishes with the hand soap next to the sink….

  • Angela Allen November 6, 2018, 8:47 am

    If you decide to invite the same group again, find an ally (or maybe several) who will do some gatekeeping. “Oh hi, let’s step out of the kitchen so OP can focus on making gravy” “Let me take the plates from you…I’m putting them in the sink so that you can join the others”. I have nicely but firmly removed people from my kitchen “Just humor me”. But the best way of handling it is probably my late grandmother’s way “Please leave the dishes in the sink. When I wash the dishes I think of everyone who was here and how we talked and shared over the meal”.
    As for photos, “I really want everyone to focus on the moment and not on whether they’ll be photographed.” That probably won’t work but maybe it will help her see why photographing everything is problematic.

  • Queen of Putrescence November 6, 2018, 10:43 am

    When it comes to the doors, I would place a large sign on the front door that says “Please use front door”. Then on the side door, make sure it is locked and a sign is placed on that door saying “Please use front door”. If the side door has a window, make sure it has a curtain or blinds so no one can look in and see you.

  • JD November 6, 2018, 11:15 am

    Several suggestions, use any, all or none:
    Lock that kitchen door and put a note on it that says “Kitchen is busy — please use front door.”
    Put a child gate at your interior kitchen doorway(s) so kids can’t easily wander in.
    Have a variety of drinks/snacks set out and let them know that’s all you have until the meal is served. No point in asking for something else, then.
    Ask a friendlier family member (assuming you have one!) to help your husband set up and herd the cats while you work in the kitchen.
    Simplify the menu so that you aren’t working so hard and can maybe break free to deal with these people.
    Reduce the guest list to eliminate those who throw tantrums and ignore the hosts’ wishes.
    Firmly tell those who want to help “No thank you, I have my own system and prefer to do this myself.” If they pick up items to wash, dry or put away anyway, remove the items from their hands and quickly tell them they “are a guest and are not to do a bit of work, so sit down, have a good time and another piece of pie,” as you steer them right out of the kitchen.
    Get firm with the camera enthusiast and insist, no pictures of people until he/she finally stops. Or, do what my husband has done — he asks to see the camera like he’s interested in it, then refuses to give it back until the event is over, telling the person point blank that no photos were requested, so the camera won’t be needed until the event is through.

    • ladyv21454 November 6, 2018, 12:03 pm

      I happen to be one of those people who HATE having my picture taken – especially by someone doing random “candid” photos. It would take a lot of willpower for me to not snatch the camera out of the person’s hand and refuse to return it until the end of the evening – and would have taken five minutes to delete every single picture BEFORE I returned it.

  • Dawn November 6, 2018, 11:39 am

    Locking the kitchen door is a great idea. So is the gate. Give trustworthy people different “jobs”. Coat-hanger-upper comes to mind! Let MIL wash any dishes she wants. Just tell her to put the clean dishes on the kitchen table and you’ll put them away later. If she asks why, tell her the truth – that you spends days trying to find things. As for A and B, have a conversation with your sister and tell her you hope she understands there will not be a repeat of the hissy fits or picture taking. They’re her family, her problem.

    Good luck!


  • Maggie November 6, 2018, 12:50 pm

    One possible solution for the door issue would be to decorate the main door to attract people’s attention – almost like “Party’s this way!”

  • staceyizme November 6, 2018, 12:51 pm

    The word “no” is a complete sentence and it isn’t impolite. You can’t control the picture stalker so feel free to have someone run interference or to not invite her if you simply cannot stomach the idea of her presence. Your kitchen isn’t the Holy of Holies. Part of having people in your home is managing to the group dynamic. It may mean that people go places that you don’t intend, at times that are inconvenient and in ways that don’t make sense to you. You can either put your foot down firmly but politely or roll with it. None of this is big stuff, but most of it can be fixed with a little firmness and good boundaries. (Post a sign as to where people should enter, set drinks out so that guests can help themselves, give others jobs to do so that they help you get the meal on the table and be somewhat more like help/ less like hindrance.)

  • BMS2000 November 6, 2018, 12:51 pm

    It is perfectly ok to set rules and regulations for your house, but you also might consider lightening up just a little bit. A lot of the things you’re getting upset about are pretty minor in the cosmic scheme of things. As long as nothing is getting broken, dinner isn’t getting burnt, and no one is getting injured, just let the little things go. It’s once a year.

    • chigrrl November 16, 2018, 8:13 am

      My thoughts exactly. Feels like OP is setting herself up to be pissed off rather than actually looking for suggestions.

  • DGS November 6, 2018, 2:14 pm

    A few suggestions from someone who routinely hosts between 30 and 50 people for most holidays…

    1) “No, thank you”, is a complete sentence.
    2) “I have my own system, and I appreciate your help so much, but it’s easier and faster for me to do XYZ myself. I would love some help with setting out the desserts/gathering all the dirty dishes and putting them in the sink”. Or, “no no, do enjoy yourself, have you tried the pecan pie?” (as you thrust a plate with pie in their hands and kick them out of the kitchen”.
    3) Generate a time to take family pictures. You can point out that it’s awfully hard to enjoy the holiday, if you’re too focused on taking pictures.
    4) Come up with small jobs that people can do to help them feel like they are helping you – setting the table, setting out drinks, or even some activities like games, etc., to help them be entertained and let you finish the task at hand.
    5) Why can’t a person come into the kitchen to ask for a glass of water again? A kitchen is just the place – simply set aside a drinks and appetizers area that is away from where you are putting the last finishing touches on the turkey.
    6) You might consider doing most of the prep before the day of, to feel less stressed and irritable on the day. I do my baking and my side dishes Monday night, Tuesday night and Wednesday night, so all I have to do Thursday is the turkey and the gravy. It makes the day so much more enjoyable because all I have to do is reheat and serve, not attempt to prepare everything whilst still entertaining company.

    And finally…
    7) Don’t invite people who can’t behave themselves appropriately.

    • staceyizme November 7, 2018, 9:29 am

      I really wish I could vote this for 100,000 likes! The best events I’ve ever had are always the ones where most of the prep was done ahead of time and there was very little rushing around at the last moment. Doesn’t matter if it’s a buffet for a couple hundred people or if it’s just a family dinner, being ahead of schedule definitely takes the pressure off.

  • Anonymous November 6, 2018, 3:45 pm

    Gee, all of these ideas to make Thanksgiving Dinner Chez OP run more smoothly, would probably work, but since there are so many of them, the list reads like a “battle plan” of sorts, for an event that’s supposed to be enjoyable. So, I think I agree with Sarah’s idea of going Dutch at a restaurant. Even if that doesn’t become the way the OP’s family does Thanksgiving from now on, maybe ONE year at a restaurant will convince them to respect her wishes.

  • lakey November 6, 2018, 3:46 pm

    Other commenters have given great suggestions. If you follow these suggestions and some people still act like jerks, stop inviting the jerks. These people are adults and if they can’t learn how to behave, they can do something else for Thanksgiving.

  • Kitty November 6, 2018, 5:17 pm

    Well, a simple way to prevent people from going into the side and back doors would be to lock them.

    Your sister needs to be told to not act like an adult-sized toddler because, unless she’s currently in pain, there’s no reason she can’t hang up her own coat. If she throws a tantrum, tell her politely that you can see she is not feeling well today, and perhaps she would feel more comfortable going home and relaxing.

    As for her MIL, people who don’t want their picture taken should firmly tell her so. If she proceeds to follow them, she gets one warning: stop following them, and do not try to take pictures of them, or that camera will be taken away and put somewhere, where she can’t find it until it’s time to leave.

  • Linda November 6, 2018, 7:45 pm

    Would it be possible/horrible to simply lock your back/side doors and make your front porch/door extra inviting (lanterns or garden lights on the pathway or a welcome sign, etc). If people try to use the back door you can ignore them and then “oh sorry, was so busy in the kitchen we didn’t hear you, that’s why the front entrance is open.”

    I’d also try to prep as much ahead as possible and definitely set out appetizers and a DIY drink station in whatever area you’d prefer to keep people corralled. Good luck!

  • shoegal November 7, 2018, 11:39 am

    I’m a firm believer in finding subtle ways to force my guests to do what I want. I usually don’t want anyone sitting at the peninsula in my kitchen during a party. So I take the stools away. There is no way to sit there – so you can’t do it. I didn’t have to yell at anyone – it just isn’t possible. If you want nobody in the kitchen – post a sign, lock the door or perhaps do as much as possible before guests arrive to keep your kitchen time to a minimum. Frankly, I’m sure there is someone of that group who would be a help in the kitchen and not a hindrance. Also, you are hosting a gathering and you shouldn’t be stealing away in the kitchen alone – you have to be prepared to socialize with these people – otherwise don’t bother. Also, why was your husband “frantically” setting up – it should have been done. I’m big on being prepared. It did not sound as if you were. I know some things can’t be done until the last minute – but all dishes can be kept warm or cold or whatever. Or don’t do as much – your Thanksgiving can be whatever you want it to be. Also the exceptionally rude spouse – because that was what she was wouldn’t be invited back. I don’t put up with crap like that. It is supposed to be festive holiday – I wouldn’t have made a scene – I just will not have her back. There is no excuse for that behavior. Tell your sister to have a few words with her – she can’t possibly approve of that!!!! The picture taker – is also a no. I would isn’t the invitation with the caveat that the camera stays home. If you can’t do that, then you are not welcome.

  • AM November 7, 2018, 5:31 pm

    None of these folks sound like people I’d want to spend time with, in or outside my home. I know we don’t choose our family and part of what makes it special is that they’re your family no matter what, but sheesh. I’d call the whole thing off, myself.

  • Redblues November 9, 2018, 8:44 am

    I agree with the posters above. Don’t invite the people who were rude last year. Camera Queen would never set foot in my home again. Neither would sister’s spouse. Of course that probably means no sister at holidays either, but let her live with the consequences of marrying into a family of boors. Lock the side and back doors. Ignore the pounding and screaming. If there are windows through which they can see you ignoring them, so much the better. No pointing to the front door, or speaking to them, or acknowledging their tantrums at all. I would not put up signs, or care if they stood there screaming all day. The front door is where guests enter the home. Victorian homes usually have kitchen doors too, not open doorways. Keep them locked. At least use a child gate of there is no door so wandering toddlers can’t get in. Tell “helpers” “no”, over and over, as many times as it takes. Drop whatever you are doing immediately if they try, and take whatever they are carrying right out of their hands, put it back on the table, then go back to whatever you were doing. You may have to do this repeatedly, with the same plate or empty wine bottle, with the same person. Do it anyway. All of this is behavior modification *for them*. Behavior modification initially results in the offender doubling down on bad behavior, to wear you down. If you give in, they learn to turn up the volume to force your compliance, because that has already worked for them with you before. Do not allow it. Keep right on preventing their unwanted behavior. As has already been stated, “no” is a complete sentence. A cooler full of drinks in the living room means no excuses to wander in to the kitchen. Being prepared before the guests arrive eliminates frantic running around at the last minute. One thing that drives me crazy about entertaining is all the people who show up but prefer not to socialize. Instead they present themselves in the kitchen and ask how they can help. I always respond “go in the living room and get the party started.” Nothing is helpful about having to trip over people in the kitchen. Establish a firm “Nobody But Me And Spouse In Our Kitchen” rule *now*. People will eventually chalk it up to “eccentricity” on your part or they will simply stop coming. Either way, problem solved. This is all about establishing boundaries. They are testing yours. Pretend they are toddlers, and respond accordingly. “No” over and over, as long as it takes. If you think it is difficult to establish boundaries now, you do not want to try in ten or fifteen years, when they have trained *you* to give in.

  • Ross November 13, 2018, 1:05 am

    If I’m going to have a formal setting, it’s all set before hand or even the day before. Most dishes can be prepped a day or two before and popped in the oven for heating. You’ll appreciate your prepping. One trick I always use is print a nice sign with the meals theme that says something along the line, “Please come in and join us,” at the front door. People have learned to casually come in and have a drink. The “ball game” is never on but some casual music, preferable something instrumental that allows for conversation. A few easy hosting hacks and you’ll enjoy your parties a lot more.

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