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A potluck is a gathering of people where each person or group of people contribute a dish of food prepared by the person or the group of people, to be shared among the larger gathered group. Synonyms include: potluck dinner, spread, Jacob's join, Jacob's supper, faith supper, covered dish supper, dish party, bring and share, shared lunch, pitch-in, carry-in, bring-a-plate, dish-to-pass, fuddle. It is also referred to as a smorgasbord or potlatch.
The word pot-luck appears in 16th century England, in the work of Thomas Nashe, and used to mean "food provided for an unexpected or uninvited guest, the luck of the pot".[this quote needs a citation] The sense "communal meal, where guests bring their own food", appears to have originated in the late 19th century or early 20th century, particularly in the Western North America, either by influence from potlatch or possibly by extension of traditional sense of "luck of the pot".
To the Irish, a potluck was a meal with no particular menu. Everyone participating brought a dish for all to share. The term comes from a time when groups of Irish women would gather together and cook dinner. They only had one pot so they cooked the meal together with whatever ingredients they happened to have that day.
Potluck dinners are events where the attendees bring a dish to a meal. Potluck dinners are often organized by religious or community groups, since they simplify the meal planning and distribute the costs among the participants. Smaller, more informal get-togethers with distributed food preparation may also be called potlucks. The only traditional rule is that each dish be large enough to be shared among a good portion (but not necessarily all) of the anticipated guests. In some cases each participant agrees ahead of time to bring a single course, and the result is a multi-course meal. Guests may bring in any form of food, ranging from the main course to desserts. In the United States, potlucks are associated with crockpot dishes, casseroles (often called hot dishes in the upper Midwest), dessert bars, and jello salads.
Potluck paranoia or a case of the "potluck willies" may be experienced by some individuals who are uncertain of food preparation methods, sanitation, and unknown ingredients.
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