As with every other holiday and birthday this year, Thanksgiving will be different in 2020. Rather than only focusing on the turkey and tidings, family and friend groups will have to explore new ways of gathering and celebrating. While some may be able to join in-person safely, many will be navigating a virtual dinner with their loved ones far and wide. No matter how you decide to host this holiday, it may be a stressful experience. To make it easier, we spoke with party planning experts for their best advice on maintaining health protocols, boosting morale and helping everyone you love feel appreciated this Thanksgiving. Here, their best insight:
How to keep in-person Thanksgiving celebrations COVID-19 safe
In the past, you sent out a group email covering the Turkey Day plans, asked everyone to bring something for a potluck, and called it a day. But this year? You’ll need to take a few extra steps to ensure the safety of your guests and yourself. Laura Jennings, the founder of Knack, recommends being upfront from the get-go by including your guidelines in the invite to Thanksgiving dinner. Whether it’s getting a test for COVID-19 before attending, mask-wearing inside your home or maintaining six-feet of distance from appetizers to dessert, ensure it’s straightforward and easy to understand in your messaging.
She also suggests hanging up lighthearted reminder signs in your home, like near the front door or by the bathroom sink. They might say, ‘If you have something stuck in your teeth, we’ll never know!’ or ‘We don’t want to hug you anyway’ — and so on. This keeps it friendly and funny.
If you have the budget to do so, Jennings also recommends providing every guest with personal protection gear — like masks, gloves and hand sanitizer — as a ‘party favor.’ “There are so many wonderful smelling hand sanitizers available now and adorably designed masks. Your guests will be able to use these beyond your Thanksgiving celebration, and it will help them remember what fun they had,” she adds.
How to make in-person Thanksgiving memorable
Rather than avoiding COVID-19 altogether, you should incorporate it into your party planning, since hey, one day, we will all be telling stories on how we survived the chaos of this lap around the sun.
Share what you’re thankful for around the table
Sure, it may be cheesy and overdone, but in 2020, it’s more important than ever to find gratitude, Jennings says. In fact, she suggests making it mandatory, since it forces your guests to seek and acknowledge the silver linings in their life. “Instead of everyone talking about what they’re grateful for in general, have them share what they are grateful for despite a really tough year,” she continues. “It will help remind everyone that despite all 2020 has served us, we are beautifully resilient and have so much to be thankful for.”
Put on some pants
While usually, Thanksgiving is a time to pull out the leggings and allow your stomach to stretch out, with many working remotely for months, it’s been a whole year of cozy wear. That’s why event planner Kristen Gosselin suggests switching it up and creating a fancy dress code for the party. “There can still be a formality to the holiday, and you can also use the opportunity to take some family photos. There are not many reasons to get dressed up as of late, so with the holidays coming up, you can brush the dust off of some of your finer pieces,” she suggests.
And along the same lines, she suggests creating an extravagant tablescape with beautiful linen, full tableware and lush floral. “Given that it will only be a small group of people, you can splurge on these table items without breaking the bank,” she adds.
Have a contest
During stressful periods, humor can be an impactful tool to lighten your spirits and help you relax. Before the event, ask your guests to prepare by researching (or writing their own!) COVID-19 joke or comedy skit. Then, one-by-one, you can ‘perform’, getting everyone to enjoy a glass of champagne or wine and ease into the dinner, even if it’s different from years past. The winner should take home some sort of prize — maybe a toilet paper ornament, a winner-winner-chicken-dinner-themed face mask, or another silly token.
Or, if jokes don’t make sense for your group, get creative with other contest ideas. Maybe everyone dresses up as a character, perhaps you create flower crowns, or everyone makes an pumpkin bread ahead of time, and you take votes. By joining together — even six-feet apart — you create that important feeling of togetherness, Jennings adds.
How to make virtual Thanksgiving memorable
Everyone has adopted different perspectives on what level of risk they are willing to take on during the pandemic. And if you decide having a virtual gathering is more comfortable for your family or friend group, you may need to be creative with party planning. As the digital hostess, these tips can help create a fun, memorable Thanksgiving for all who dial-in.
Set a schedule and stick to it
As we have all figured out, Zoom fatigue is real, and it’s not practical to have everyone on the same video chat all of the hours the turkey is roasting in your oven. To keep everyone engaged and entertained, Jennings suggests creating a timeline of events so everyone can join when they want. Make sure the schedule is in everyone’s email so they can access it easily throughout the Thursday. It may look a little something like this:
8 to 9 a.m.: Coffee and chit-chat. Preparing the turkey to cook.
12 to 1 p.m. Turkey check-in. Cooking updates.
3 to 4 p.m.: A Thanksgiving joint craft or activity. (See below!)
6 to 7 p.m.: Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone comes prepared with something they are grateful for.
Plan an activity
Another way to keep everyone’s attention away from their Instagram feed and on one another is to put together an activity or craft. Jennings recommends a trivia game, a virtual wine tasting, a handprint turkey, or something else fun and festive. You can have everyone contribute to a general fund and then purchase all of the necessary materials, so they’re sent out before Thanksgiving. “It’s unique, engaging, and everyone will remember it for years to come,” she raves.
Create a gift exchange
To help your guests stay focused on Thanksgiving happenings, a gift-opening experience is recommended by event planner Eddie Zaratsian. After all, it’s been a rough year, and a little token of thoughtfulness delivered to your doorstep can go a long way. You can go the ‘secret Santa’ route, and everyone draws a person at random (sites like Elfster.com make this easy-peasy), and they’re tasked with ensuring the present arrives in time. It could be a decor care package with candles, dinnerware and wine glasses, it could be a recipe book from family members, a cozy sweater to wear during Thanksgiving — and the list goes on. And psst: make sure everyone includes a handwritten card!
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