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While there’s no way to guarantee that your Thanksgiving gathering will be 100% conflict-free, setting a few boundaries with your guests ahead of the big dinner can help to at least minimize confrontations and awkward moments. Here are a few examples of topics to discuss and agree on before coming together for the holiday.
Come up with a food plan
Food is a crucial part of most holidays, so it makes sense that when the day’s main activities are preparing and then eating a meal, things can get heated. Between competing recipes and cooking techniques—not to mention literal cases of too many cooks in a kitchen—food-related tensions can run high on Thanksgiving.
If this is a yearly problem at your gatherings, agree to a plan ahead of time. In addition to specifying who will make each dish (to avoid duplicates and hurt feelings), also sort out some sort of cooking and heating schedule to ensure that people aren’t competing for kitchen space and oven time.
As a bonus, you may also want to set boundaries regarding commenting on or flat-out criticizing other people’s food or cooking techniques. This is a great time for people to keep those opinions to themselves.
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Get the timing right
Being the one to host holiday gatherings isn’t only a matter of letting people into your home on Thanksgiving Day: It also involves prep work, and cleaning both before and after the event. That’s why the host and guests should agree not only to an arrival time, but a departure time as well.
This will save the host from feeling as though they have to kick people out, and gives socially anxious guests some sort of timeline—rather than facing a gathering that could go on for an undetermined amount of time.
Get on the same page about health and safety
Along with being the third Thanksgiving of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we’re also contending with early surges in RSV and flu cases this year. At this point, everyone is not on the same page in terms of the risk they’re willing to take on in order to attend holiday gatherings—which is something you should discuss before the holiday.
These conversations may be uncomfortable, but are better to have before Thanksgiving Day. It’s also entirely possible that you and your guests won’t reach a natural consensus. If that happens, it’s ultimately your call, because it’s your home, and you deserve to feel comfortable and safe in it.
Respect new and old traditions
In 2020 (and 2021, to a lesser extent), the pandemic disrupted countless holiday gatherings, giving many people the opportunity to create their own traditions, instead of following those they were born or married into. And even though more people feel comfortable traveling for Thanksgiving again, they may not want to completely abandon their new traditions and return to old ones.
If this is (or may be) an issue at your Thanksgiving gathering, bring it up with your guests ahead of time. Assess the attendees’ traditions—both new and old—and as a group, decide which to observe this year. Do so with the understanding that you can alternate between different combinations of these traditions from year-to-year, so everyone is included.
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