The 2021 etiquette guide to a Thanksgiving gathering

·4 min read

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Thanksgiving celebration traditional dinner. Roasted turkey garnished with cranberries on a rustic style table decoraded with pumpkins, vegetables, pie, flowers and candles. Festive table setting
Thanksgiving dinner may look a little different this year, but you can still celebrate the holiday with loved ones. (Getty Images)

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 long time – Thanksgiving. While we are so much further ahead from where we were at this time last year, the challenge of celebrating 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 in our new world, 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. 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...

Cropped imaged of waiter cutting turkey for guests
Hosts will want to check in with guests' comfort levels before the big event. (Getty Images)

If this is your first time hosting an event during the pandemic, be aware that some people still have reservations and may 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?  

ALSO SEE: 8 mistakes to avoid when preparing your Thanksgiving turkey

While some guests may be comfortable with a full house, others might prefer a more intimate gathering or an outdoor setting. 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 a welcoming home

Christmas eve holiday party decorated table set with disposable medical mask and alcohol hand sanitizer bottle. Coronavirus (Covid 19) spreading prevention concept. Christmas micro led lights wire.
Thoughtful details like hand sznitizer and disposable face masks can go a long way to making guests feel safe and welcome in your home. (Getty Images)

This year, a welcoming home should include more than just the lovely pumpkin scented candle by the front door. Consider including a basket of fresh masks, a 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 being a guest

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 OK — it’s absolutely fine to say no to invitations. It’s also OK 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 the event.

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On 'giving everyone the benefit of the doubt'

A lot has changed in the past year and a half and COVID-19 has affected all of us in different ways. Accept that everyone has different 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. 

ALSO SEE: Here's why you should never wash uncooked turkey

Alternatively, if someone does offer you that unexpected or prolonged hug, and you’re not quite comfortable, it's OK to politely tell them you're still being extra cautious. 

On small talk

Male and female friends sitting by dining table enjoying Christmas party at home
Celebrate the holiday with loved ones, and leave the controversial conversations for another occasion. (Getty Images)

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, now is the 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 24, 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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