I haven’t been home for Thanksgiving in almost 10 years. I typically reserve trips home to Houston for Christmas, weddings and family reunions (and that more somber occasion that starts with an “f”).
For the several years that I spent Thanksgiving in Washington, D.C., I would spend the day with various combinations of cousins and friends. Last year, however, I moved to Los Angeles, where I knew virtually no one, which has required me to dust off my old Thanksgiving Day game plan.
Yes, it requires a game plan because if you’re not careful, you might find yourself stuck at the wrong dinner party eating stuffing made with oysters (gasp!) while listening to a debate over what Willow and Jaden Smith meant when they said … whatever they said.
For anyone who doesn’t want to host a dinner party or eat alone, here’s a handy guide for how to do Thanksgiving right when you can’t make it home:
1. Identify the universe of possibilities.
First, you have to figure out who’s cooking Thanksgiving dinner within a doable radius. If you’re new to a city and are hoping to establish a social circle, cast the net wide. This is the time to call up old grad-school friends you haven’t seen since graduation, or third and fourth cousins you met “that one time” at the family reunion picnic, à la, “Hey, [Cousin So-and-So], I know I haven’t called you since I moved here nine months ago … but, er, um, you cookin’ for Thanksgiving? … Oh, by the way, I’m Barbara’s daughter.” (You should probably figure out how you’re related to them.)
2. Do your research.
You have to know your deal breakers and ask questions accordingly. You “don't fool with everybody’s potato salad,” and these folks are “everybody”? They keep the kitty litter box in the kitchen? (No judgment, but turkey with “essence of kitty litter” isn’t everyone’s thing.) They put oysters in their stuffing? (Seriously. I witnessed this once, and I can’t get over it.)
Of course, the food is important, but so is the company. This year, many people will be discussing a number of topics, ranging from everything from Ferguson to Solange’s wedding ’fro to Bill Cosby. You should probably gather a sense of where people stand on the issues that are important to you if you want to avoid turkey with a side of foolishness.
3. Narrow down your options.
After you’ve done your research, it’s time to decide whose house or houses you want to stop by. I say “houses” because, depending on how light you travel—e.g., solo vs. with a plus one vs. with a newborn vs. with three teenagers—you can squeeze in more merriment. In fact, if you’re single, sometimes people just assume you have somewhere else to go, like a “discotheque,” as a great-aunt once asked me. In this case, some people are just glad you stopped by, and they’ll probably even insist that you take some food home with you. (Yes, please!)
4. Map out your itinerary.
Once you’ve decided on your gatherings, it’s time to put together a final itinerary, which depends on a number of factors, including the following: what time people are getting started (keeping in mind that 3 p.m. means 5 p.m. for some people); what you plan to do at each gathering (e.g., eat dinner, watch the game, just stop by for dessert or play spades well into the night); where each stop is located (gas prices are dropping, but you still want to arrange your schedule in a way that makes logistical and economical sense); and how much time you can spend at each gathering so that you can stay on schedule (I’ve had to set alarms before).
Now you should have a pretty solid Thanksgiving Day itinerary.
5. Pick up or prepare something to share to say thank you.
Once you’ve mapped out your plan for the big day, it’s time to stop by your favorite grocery store and pick up some goodies. (I’m from the South, where showing up empty-handed is considered an abomination.) Keep your audience in mind. Are they vegan? Do they drink alcohol? If they are serving brunch, you might opt for champagne or sparkling cider. If you are showing up just in time for card playing, you might opt for a “darker” beverage. Pick up or prepare a little something for everyone. Bottles of wine and/or pie are typically a safe bet. And if the budget is tight, glad tidings and good cheer are universally well-received.
This year, I’ve decided to start the day at a Thanksgiving brunch hosted by my hairstylist. I’m bringing a quiche. Then I’ll be spending the rest of the day with some new cousins. (I don’t know yet how we’re related, but I hear they’re making 74 racks of lamb just for appetizers. Woot! I’ll be bringing wine, Brie and chocolates.)
Good luck, and happy Thanksgiving!
Akilah Green is a recovering Washington, D.C., lawyer-lobbyist-politico turned TV and film writer and producer living in Los Angeles. She currently works for Chelsea Handler’s Netflix talk show, Chelsea. She has also worked as a staff writer for Kevin Hart’s production company, HartBeat Productions, and as a consultant for Real Time With Bill Maher on HBO. In addition, she co-wrote and is producing Scratch, an indie horror-comedy feature film, and is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow Green’s adventures in La La Land on her blog, Twitter and Facebook.