With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, we are all feeling anxious and a bit awkward about how to approach saying no to family and friends who are continuing to host Thanksgiving dinner. The article below has some great tips on how to handle these situations. Written by CNN’s Matt Villano, we hope you find the article helpful as you make your Thanksgiving plans during these most unusual times:
Thanksgiving has always been a big deal for Sara Wellensiek and her family.
Every year, the Phoenix blogger, her husband and their three boys fly to Nebraska to spend the week seeing loved ones. They go to a University of Nebraska Cornhuskers football game. They eat pumpkin spice treats. They spend the actual holiday with relatives. Then they come back to Arizona and have another celebration at home.
All told, Wellensiek estimated her fivesome probably has close contact with between 20 and 30 other people over the course of the week — not counting interactions with strangers on planes, in stadiums and around town.
This year, however, the family will see almost nobody. Because they're not even planning to leave the house. The reason for this change in plans: the Covid-19 pandemic. Like many people, Wellensiek said she doesn't want to risk getting the virus or giving it to people she loves. She also doesn't want to contribute to another spike of cases in her community.
"We choose to stay home to protect ourselves, our family and friends, and the community at large," she said via email. "Without the Covid pandemic, our plans would not have changed."
Wellensiek's concerns are shared by many others. Across the country, many people are responding to the pandemic by making similar decisions about this US holiday. None of these choices is easy, and managing feelings about skipping annual family Thanksgiving traditions can be hard. Communicating your decision clearly and thoughtfully can be the toughest task of all.
Note the rules
Before you can accept or decline a Thanksgiving invite, it's important to figure out how to stay safe. On November 11, the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention updated guidelines for holiday celebrations. The takeaway: In-person gatherings pose varying levels of risk.
Long, indoor gatherings with lots of people pose more of a risk than short, outdoor shindigs with a select few, the CDC noted. Another factor: the number and rate of Covid-19 cases in the community of celebration.
In most states, up-to-date statistics on case numbers* and community spread can be found on the area's health department website. In areas where these numbers are rising, gatherings bring with them much greater potential risk, said Dr. Ramon Tallaj, founder and chairman of Somos Community Care, a network of health care providers serving New York City.
"You have to be smart," said Tallaj, who helped implement citywide treatment protocols when New York was a Covid hotspot this spring. "If cases are on the rise in your area, don't do it. If you're going to celebrate in a small apartment with lots of people, don't do it. We have pushed so many other things off and this should be no different. Really, what's another year?"
Focus on your safety
If you opt to bail on tradition this year, etiquette experts said it's a good idea to express your choice as a personal one. Using "I statements," or statements that start with the first-person pronoun, make clear to loved ones that your decision has nothing to do with them, said Kianga Kelley-Crowley, founder and owner of Simply a Lady, an etiquette and communications consulting company in Wichita, Kansas.
"It's all right to say, 'I prefer not to get together with everyone,' or 'I'm sorry but we're not going to be able to attend this year,'" she said. "Take responsibility for your decision. Own it. Speak the truth to your family members. It's perfectly acceptable to say you're focusing on your own safety and would rather stay home."
Lisa Mirza Grotts, who calls herself the "Golden Rules Gal," added that her buzzword of the season is risk. The etiquette expert said she has focused on explaining her decisions only in terms of potential danger — nothing else. This approach has made it easier for her to communicate unpleasant news, she noted.
"When you share your feelings in the context of risk — 'I don't want to be a virus spreader and put others at risk' — the sentiment is very straightforward," said Grotts, who is based in San Francisco. "This is one of the easiest outs there ever will be. It's not about you. It's about others and what you can do to them."
Giving thanks differently
There are plenty of alternatives to getting together with family members for a traditional Thanksgiving celebration this year. If you're interested in pursuing other options, you can find something that works for everyone. Perhaps the easiest of the bunch is to follow in the footsteps of most workplaces and embrace a virtual holiday.
Here, one family member can assume the role of party planner and set up the meeting, send out invites and serve as "host" for the live event. On a basic level, participants can have the virtual shindig running during their respective dinners, so everyone feels like they're sitting at the table together.
For a more sophisticated approach, Kianga Kelley-Crowley suggested distributing prepackaged meals in advance, so everyone is eating the same thing at the same time, together over Zoom. As a way to say "We are thinking of you" to her usual holiday co-celebrants, Grotts said she was buying them a complete Thanksgiving dinner from a supermarket in their area.
*You can find Oklahoma’s updated COVID numbers here.