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The 2021 Etiquette Guide to a Thanksgiving Gathering

Pass the turkey, pass the gravy, pass the uncertainly of hosting your first real holiday since the start of the pandemic.

We’re just a few days away from what will be, for many people, the first holiday get-together with family and friends in a looong time – Thanksgiving. While we are so much further ahead from where we were last year, at this time (SO thankful), the challenge of surviving a comfortable and safe Thanksgiving dinner is likely still very much front-of-mind for many people.

So what does this first holiday look like and are there a new set of social etiquette rules to follow?

Etiquette has everything to do with the kind and considerate way that we treat other people. It’s about putting others before ourselves and being selfless not selfish. Pouring the Pinot Noir in the correct wine glass is what we like to consider ‘the polish’ that comes with good manners. If we approach the holiday, with this in mind, we may actually make it past the squash soup by avoiding any unnecessary drama or unexpected surprises.

On, “being the host…”

If this is your first time hosting an event since the pandemic, be aware that some people still have reservations and may still be feeling anxious. Try to be as transparent as possible with all the details and communicate clearly and early on. Good planning goes a long way.

While in the past, a good host would have coordinated all the details of their event – from picking the date, deciding on the guest list, planning the menu and handling any dietary restrictions, this year there are inevitably a few more considerations.

The host will need to decide and (more importantly) communicate all information related to a COVID gathering. For example, are guests required to be fully vaccinated or to be tested prior to arriving? Will masks be required? Who will be attending? Is it a large gathering or a small one? While some guests may be comfortable with a full house others might prefer a more intimate gathering. The earlier you can share these details, the easier it will be in allowing your guests to make an informed decision. As a good host, it might also be a nice gesture to offer a private conversation to address any concerns, prior to the event. The last thing you want to find out is that someone is uncomfortable eating from a buffet-style set-up once all the food has been laid out.

On, “being a guest...”

Admit it, how much did you love skipping all the fuss last year and enjoying a simple turkey dinner in front of the T.V. (please tell me you still used a real dinner plate and napkin!). Once you’ve considered all the necessary details of the event, decide on what you feel comfortable with. If you’re not up to a big gathering, just yet, that’s okay - it’s absolutely fine to say ‘no.’ It’s also okay to ask questions and to see if any of your concerns can be accommodated. Just make sure to do so well before the day-of.

On, ‘a welcoming home’

This year, a welcoming home should include more than just the lovely pumpkin scented candle by the front door to include a basket of fresh masks, a nicely scented bottle of sanitizer and perhaps, disposable hand towels in the powder room. These thoughtful elements will go a long way to creating a well-thought out environment for your guests.

On, “giving everyone the benefit of the doubt”

A lot has changed in the last 19 months and COVID has affected all of us – some more than others. Accept that everyone has differently comfort levels. If aunt Kelly doesn’t run up and kiss you cheek to cheek, as she would have in the past, accept the change graciously and try not to take small things too personally. Alternatively, if someone does offer you that unexpected or prolonged hug, and you’re not quite comfortable, do remain polite and wait until they’ve left should you wish to bathe yourself in Purell.

On, ‘small talk’

For many people who will be seeing one another for the first time, the inevitable C-word (which has dominated every headline since 2020) is bound to surface. Whether you’re the host or a guest, know when it’s time to change the subject away from vaccines, lockdowns and the latest COVID stats. With so much time apart, isn’t it time to turn the conversation to happier and more pleasant topics such as new babies, travel, or whether or not Bridgerton is making a sequel.

Whether we’re hosting a group of four or twenty four or if we’re simply the guest that shows up with a pumpkin pie in hand, let’s remember that this is a holiday to be thankful, to count our blessings and to always remember that gravy is ladled and never poured over the turkey.

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