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Adopt holiday 'orphans' this Thanksgiving

Cheri Sicard is the author of The Low Carb Restaurant Guide -- Eat Out at America's Favorite Restaurants and Stay on Your Diet (2004, M. Evans) and two other books.

Thanksgiving gratitude

Create a wonderful Thanksgiving tradition by filling your home with an assortment of people -- from the grocery store clerk who's miles away from her family to coworkers, friends and relatives. Cheri Sicard advises inviting "orphans" to your holiday table this year.

Thanksgiving Meal

Adopt a holiday "orphan"

It's "people" that make a perfect holiday for me. One thing I urge everyone to do is adopt "orphans" on Thanksgiving or Christmas, or Easter, or Passover or any other important holiday. No, I don't mean literal orphans. I mean acquaintances, even remote ones, who are far from home and family.

Why not open your home and heart and invite these people to participate in the holiday with you and yours? Some of my most treasured holiday memories involve the revolving door of colorful guests that have graced our holiday tables over the years.

It's surprising how many people have no place special to go on holidays. Jobs, education, financial strains or other commitments often cause people to be far from home during these important celebrations. If this describes you, why not organize a special feast and invite others who might also be in the same boat? Friends and family are where you find them and holidays have a way of making kind gestures even more meaningful and important.

Cherished memories

One of my most cherished Christmas memories involves a family I barely knew. They took me in for the entire Christmas holiday in my early twenties when the rest of my family had traveled to Mom and Dad's, while I was left to tend the homestead and take care of our animals.

I have been known to take the concept of including "orphans" in holidays to extremes, inviting complete strangers home for Thanksgiving dinner on countless occasions. Admittedly, this will be far too adventurous for many people and probably isn't even considered all that wise, but it's always worked well for me.

One thing is for sure, dinner always has such an eclectic crowd it is never dull and many an important friendship has been bonded over mashed potatoes and gravy or pumpkin pie.

Unexpected guests help create wonderful memories

Some of these unexpected guests have become lifelong friends. Others I have never seen again, but for a fleeting evening, we had a brief and meaningful experience. Meaningful experiences, however fleeting, are a valuable thing in today's jaded life. I highly recommend grabbing them when you can.

Some of these unexpected guests are still being fondly remembered years later, like the man who was having such a great time he felt compelled to stand up and sing "You Are So Beautiful" to the rest of the table. Still others have joined the regular Thanksgiving or Christmas crowd, coming back year after year. Others have practically joined the family year round. Luckily a turkey will feed however many people you can dig up, and provide leftovers to send home in doggy bags.

My Thanksgiving guest lists have grown so enormous on several occasions, I have cooked two large turkeys just to be sure. We have never really needed the extra turkey, although it did provide some hearty laughs. Because of a prior job commitment, my English born friend Steve Valentine, was arriving for his first American Thanksgiving after everyone else had eaten. Steve's wife Sharon, who had been there for the whole party, explained that he wasn't familiar with our traditions. When Steve arrived, we sat him down at the table and served him a large plate containing the entire uncarved turkey as a single serving. He was trying to be polite and knew Americans ate turkey for Thanksgiving, but this was ridiculous!

The more, the merrier!

I have managed to cram as many as 25 hungry people into a small apartment for a formal sit down meal. Do any of us remember it being over crowded or the mismatched silverware or wine glasses? No. We only recall the laughter and sparkling conversation and fascinating people we met. The more the merrier, after all this is a celebration.

I am thankful for of each and every one of the holiday "orphans" I have had the good fortune to know throughout the years. They exposed my family to new perceptions, new ideas and in some cases, entirely new cultures. This is a Thanksgiving tradition I will happily continue and I urge others to do the same. The world needs all the positive energy and random acts of kindness it can get.

Tips and words of caution

  • Exercise caution: While I said I have invited complete strangers home to dinner, I will say that I do exercise some caution and judgment. These were people I have had at least minimal conversations with, like the neighbor who I had never officially met, but knew she lived alone; or the couple in the grocery store checkout line buying frozen turkey dinners on Thanksgiving Day (how depressing is that?). Also, when I invite strangers to dinner, it is always with a large gathering of people. Never bring a stranger home if you live alone.
  • Check with local organizations: You can also find suitable "holiday orphans" by checking with the clergy of your church or with local seniors centers or other such organizations to see if they have people who would enjoy a holiday dinner with company. I always invite a neighbor or two to these soirees. In addition to having more interesting guests at the party, you can usually use their ovens and refrigerator space to help prepare food.
  • Grill the turkey! It will keep your oven and kitchen free for other tasks, important when you're cooking for a big crowd.
  • Delegate responsibilities: Essentially, the first Thanksgiving was a big pot luck, and I see no reason not to continue this noble tradition. Don't try to do it all. While you might (just might) be able to pull it off, you won't have any fun and you'll be broke when it's finished. Designate things for people to bring.
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