When it comes to traveling in the U.S., the busiest day of the year is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. While U.S. airlines saw a record 31.6 million passengers flying during Thanksgiving week last year, this year is going to be different—very different. Just as experts have predicted, we've been seeing spikes in coronavirus (COVID-19) rates all over the country. And as of today, over 11 million Americans have been infected. Although all of this information is scary, it still leaves many of us wondering: What about Thanksgiving?
The thing is we’re all in for a Thanksgiving that we’ve never experienced before and, hopefully, won’t have to experience again. Although the CDC is saying a safe Thanksgiving with family is possible—as long as we stick to wearing masks at all times, maintaining social distance, washing our hands often, bringing our own utensils if we’re invited somewhere, and keeping the invitation list to a minimum if hosting—others are choosing not to partake and rather to engage in a Friendsgiving at home with their pod.
If you're taking the safe route and want to know how to safely prepare for Friendgivings, whether in person or virtual, here are all the expert tips you need.
How to have a safe in-person Friendsgiving:
Use the pod method
If you are hoping to do an in-person Friendsgiving, then it might be best to stick to your pod. In recent months, as shelter-in-place mandates were lifted in some states and people felt safer to socialize, forming pods became popular. “Planning during a pandemic can be tricky,” says Jodi RR Smith of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. “To keep within the safety regulations, your typical Friendsgiving group may need to break into two or three pods. You can be strategic about the division or divide the guest list completely at random.” This way, you can still socialize—but in a safer manner.
Long gone are the days of allowing guests to go rogue in your home—if you ever did. Instead, in order to keep everyone safe, you need to come up with a list of rules and make sure everyone agrees to adhere to them.
“Prepare your guests in advance on what to expect when they come to your home,” says Bonnie Tsai, founder and director of Beyond Etiquette, “such as whether they will be outdoors or required to wear a mask. Let them know if they’ll have their temperatures checked when they arrive and if they’ll be turned away if they are showing symptoms, even whether or not they’re able to use the restroom.”
Also, don’t forget about contact tracing. “As a host, you should collect names of all attendees and contact information in case contact tracing is needed later,” says Tsai.
If possible, host outside
Unfortunately, not all of us live in environments conducive to celebrating Friendsgiving outdoors, but if you can—thanks to either residing in a place with optimal weather or to outdoor heaters—then do it. However, if an outdoor event isn't possible, Tsai says to avoid crowded, poorly ventilated, or fully enclosed spaces. “You can increase ventilation by opening windows and doors to the extent that is safe and feasible based on the weather," she adds.
The purpose is to get the air circulating so COVID-19 doesn't linger, since smaller respiratory droplets can stay in the air for several minutes to even hours after being expelled from an infected person.
Have backup COVID-19 supplies
Even if you let everyone know to bring their own masks and hand sanitizers, that doesn’t mean people won’t forget or misplace these important items. So it's a must to have a few backup items for them in your home, says Tsai.
Ask everyone their input on the food and what will make them feel the safest
Because Friendsgiving is about the food as much as the company, you have two options: doing the cooking and serving it to your friends or having people bring their own food and beverages for themselves and those in their group—meaning the people who live in their home.
“Rather than potluck-style gatherings, you can encourage your guests to bring their own food and drinks for members within their household,” says Tsai. Maybe this means you’ll miss out on some genius culinary dishes if you’re sticking to what you bring, but it’s a good way to avoid “cross-contamination or spreading of germs,” explains Tsai.
If you do want to go all out and cook for everyone, avoid a sit-down dinner and stick to a social distance buffet where only one person is in charge of serving the food. You don’t want utensils being passed back and forth amongst multiple people, no matter how much sanitizer you use.
How to have a virtual Friendsgiving:
Get everyone involved
Considering how many people have switched their life over to virtual living, we should all have Zoom and similar video platforms down to a science by now. Because of this, Tsai says you can "schedule Zoom Thanksgiving prep sessions with friends to prepare for the big dinner so it creates an atmosphere as if you’re all spending it together."
Just remember to make enough portions for all invitees to the virtual Friendsgiving in case you want to drop off some dishes at the homes of friends who may not be cooking, as some of them might have a full schedule this time of year. This will help everyone to feel included during the virtual Friendsgiving.
Really get into the decorations
Even if you’re not the type to put decals of turkeys and cornucopias on your window, this is the year to do it—no matter how cheesy it may seem.
“Since we eliminate the hassle of traveling this year, we can turn our focus to decorating to help us set the tone for the holidays,” says Tsai. Then, as Tsai suggests, you can have a decorating competition where everyone gets to choose their favorite holiday home decor. It might seem silly in theory, but in practice, it’s a good way to just have fun with friends while keeping a safe distance.
Express your gratefulness
Do we need to recap just how bad and weird 2020 was? No, probably not. But for those of us who made it this far, we should be thankful. “With everything that’s going on this year, it’s given us an opportunity to reflect on what’s important to us and for what we’re grateful,” says Tsai. “Schedule some time during your virtual Friendsgiving for everyone to share what they’re grateful for and what they’re looking [forward] to.”
Skip it this year
Although it's maybe not something some of you want to hear, you can always skip Thanksgiving this year and just make up for it tenfold next year. If skipping it doesn’t feel right, there’s another option. “Have Friendsgiving in April if things are under better control by then,” says Smith.
Granted, we don’t know if things will be under control by April, or even by the summer, but if you pass on this Thanksgiving with the promise to celebrate when it is safe, you could end up with two of them next year. And there’s no such thing as too many Thanks/Friendsgivings.