Ah, Thanksgiving, the brilliant American holiday that centers around being thankful eating turkey, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie. The entire country will shut down this Thursday, and many of us will find ourselves at a gathering of sorts, whether it's a small family gathering, a huge community get-together, or an Orphan Thanksgiving celebration. And though the ideal Thanksgiving is filled with pleasant conversations, delicious food, and happy memories, there are always a few Thanksgiving traps that threaten to ruin your holiday. Overbearing relatives, cooking mishaps, an endless loop of Adam Sandler's "Thanksgiving Song" getting stuck in your head (it's been in mine for about 72 hours now) and irritating houseguests can all ruin your Turkey Time. Still, there are ways to avoid the Thanksgiving traps. A guide to a drama-free Turkey Day, after the jump.

  • Trap #1: Nosy Aunt Helen So maybe it's not Nosy Aunt Helen. Maybe it's Nosy Uncle George or Nosy cousin Kathleen or Nosy neighbor Olive. The point is this: there will, quite possibly, be someone at your Thanksgiving gathering who has one too many cups of egg nog and decides that it's their personal duty to ask you as many embarrassing or intrusive questions about your life as possible. If you're single, she'll want to know why. If you're married, she'll want to know why you don't have kids. If you already have kids, she'll want to know when you're going to have more. The trick here is to have canned responses at the ready: it's hard for Nosy Aunt Helen to continue and escalate her line of dumb questioning if you shut her off at the get go. I have a Nosy Aunt Helen who used to ask me every year why my boyfriend and I weren't married yet. By the 6th year we'd been dating, she amped it up to "You should really get married if you plan on living together. You can't just date someone forever. It's just not right." By this time I had had enough of Nosy Aunt Helen's bullcorn, so I responded with this: "Well, it works for Oprah." Oprah is untouchable to women like Nosy Aunt Helen. She just stood there and tried to respond, but I'd won the battle, and she hasn't asked me about my boyfriend since. Sometimes you just have to know where to strike.
  • Trap #2: The Food Is Bad. Really Bad. The entire focus of Thanksgiving is the food. If you happen to find yourself at a gathering where the food is god-awful, it will surely put you in a pretty craptacular mood. But nobody will feel worse, I can assure you, than your host. If the food is bad, they'll know it. They'll probably begin to apologize before the turkey is even on the table, which is never a good sign. While their apologies might not take the sting out of being served a crappy Thanksgiving meal, here is where your spirit of Thanksgiving needs to kick in: your friend/family member tried to make you a good meal, putting their time, money, and energy into each dish. Their heart was in the right place, at least. Be a trooper and eat what you can. If your host has a sense of humor about the whole thing, you can always order pizza and make jokes about the dried-out turkey and crunchy stuffing- that's the stuff that Thanksgiving memories are made of. But if your host is on the verge of tears, try to be kind. Compliment them on the lovely table settings, or the delicious pie. And honestly, the best way to avoid a completely disastrous Thanksgiving meal is to bring a dish of your own, to ensure that there will be at least one thing on the table that you'll enjoy.
  • Trap #3: Travel Nightmares Thanksgiving travel sucks. There's no way around it. You can try to avoid the rush by leaving a few days earlier than everyone else, but with work schedules, that's hard for most of us. The best thing to do is just to prepare yourself for the worst: fill your iPod with a playlist that will keep you sane. Stock up on sweets for the ride or flight. Try to treat the travel as an adventure, as sucky as it may be. Either that, or make people come to visit you, which brings us to:
  • Trap #4: Horrible Houseguests You've decided to hold the holiday at your house, inviting your dearest friends and relatives to share a warm meal with you and yours and so on and so forth. But at some point between your invitation and your guests' arrival, they seem to have turned into total jerks, fighting with each other, making passive-aggressive remarks about your home and your cooking, and making insane demands that they insist you fulfill. You have three options, really: you can kick them out, which is clearly the more appealing option, yet in most cases that's a bit impossible. The other option is to speak up: nobody should make you feel like a jerk in your own house. If they don't like it, they'll probably leave, and good riddance to them. Option three, of course, is to grin and bear it and add a ton of vodka to your cranberry sauce. It's only for a few days: next year, you'll keep your holiday to yourself.
  • Trap #5: You're A Vegetarian Most vegetarians have strategies to handle Thanksgiving. As Anna N. mentioned the other day, the side dishes are the best part of Thanksgiving, anyway. Tofurkey, of course, is also an option. Maybe you can even convince your family to have a vegetarian Thanksgiving with you, or at least a Tofurkey/Turkey combo of sorts. There might be someone who makes a snide comment about your vegetarian ways or demands to know why you don't eat meat: the best thing to do is to just be honest. If your fellow diners can't respect your views, that's their problem, not yours.
  • Trap #6: You Don't Have Any Thanksgiving Plans For those of us who live far away from our families, have no family to speak of, or who are struggling economically and aren't sure they'll be able to swing a Thanksgiving meal this year, there are still ways to get involved on Thanksgiving Day. Soup kitchens are open and serving hot meals for those who need them, and charities are always looking for volunteers to help man the serving lines. Many of my friends are having an "Orphan Potluck Thanksgiving," where everyone who has no place to go brings a hot dish or a dessert in order to create a different kind of "family" celebration. There are always open doors on Thanksgiving: churches, community centers, and even certain restaurants are there to ensure that everyone has a warm, friendly place to go during the holidays.
  • Trap #7: You Don't Live In The United States International Jezebels, I'm sure, are pretty sick of hearing about Thanksgiving. But dudes, even though your country doesn't celebrate it, doesn't mean that you can't! All you need is a turkey, a pumpkin pie, and something to be thankful for. And honestly? As soon as Thursday ends, the insane Christmas season begins, which is something that spreads its holiday madness across the globe. So get your Santa suits out and get ready to rock. By Friday, you won't have to hear about Thanksgiving for another 364 days. And that's something we can all be thankful for.

Any advice you'd like to share? Feel free to drop it in the comments.