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  • Writer's pictureKim Purscell

8 Etiquette Tips for Thanksgiving Day: Beyond Table Manners

Happy Thanksgiving! If you’ll be spending the holiday with family, I wish you safe travels, wonderful conversation, and of course, a delicious meal. If you’ll be staying home, may you enjoy a bit of rest, good food, and the company of those you cherish most.

Since the holidays do have a way of presenting some challenging moments, let’s talk Thanksgiving etiquette. After all, a quick etiquette refresher will surely give you that extra bit of confidence and put others at ease. I won’t be talking about setting the table or the ins and outs of being a gracious host or guest since I’ve covered that in previous columns.

Instead, I’d like to share etiquette tips for Thanksgiving on conversational do’s and don’ts. After all, you’ll likely be spending several hours with personalities of all types. Following my simple advice will help you keep the conversation flowing in all the best ways.

Etiquette Tips for Thanksgiving Day

1. Know the guest list. If you aren’t hosting Thanksgiving this year, get an idea of who will be attending this year’s festivities. Is Uncle Sam coming? How about your sister-in-law? Knowing who will be a part of the celebration this year will help you mentally prepare some thoughtful questions and conversation starters. Don’t forget to ask about the kids – that will keep the conversation rolling for far longer than you care to imagine.

2. Allow plenty of travel time. If you’ll be driving, give yourself and your family plenty of time in case you encounter traffic congestion or road closures. Arriving calm is a better option than racing in frazzled and late.

3. Bring a hostess gift. A bottle of wine, a scented holiday candle, or festive package of stationery is always a thoughtful gesture. If you plan to give flowers, send them ahead of time so they will arrive before the holiday meal.

4. Offer to bring a dish. If Aunt Audrey is preparing the meal, call ahead and ask if there is anything you can bring, such as a side of vegetables or your famous peppermint chocolate cake. If the answer is no, at least you offered. Don’t be shy about offering your help once you arrive. Filling water glasses or serving dessert may be a small gesture but greatly appreciated by your host.

5. Avoid political or religious discussions. Just because its family doesn’t mean this is the right time to go down the road of debating religion or politics. Come with a mental list of general, fun discussion topics and keep them top of mind. There is a great big world full of interesting things besides the headlines du jour on the 24-hour news cycles. Movies, TV shows, books, food, travel, holiday shopping, hobbies and fun family memories are all commonalities which allows everyone to participate. If you need some inspiration, you can find plenty of table conversation games online or at your local retail store.

6. Be a good listener. Since we are all so used to being hyper-connected, this can be a bit of a challenge. This also means not interrupting. One of the politest things we can do is give someone our full attention. Following up with thoughtful questions is another way we can show that we are fully engaged in what that person has to say.

7. Bring an activity. A deck of cards is compact enough that you can easily stow it in your purse or pocket. If you notice things are getting a little slow after the meal, ask the host if she would mind if you started up a game of cards.

8. Follow-up with a heartfelt thank-you. Remember to drop a thank-you note in the mail for the hostess within a few days of returning home. We all know the preparation that goes into hosting a large family gathering and an appreciative note is a nice touch after the holiday event has come to an end.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Kim Purscell is a licensed etiquette instructor and protocol consultant, an accomplished speaker, and experienced business executive. Ms. Purscell’s passion is to help people move upward in the workplace by improving their professional image, behavior and communication skills; and empower clients to present themselves with power, confidence, and credibility anywhere in the world. Ms. Purscell can be reached at

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