A global pandemic, social unrest, mask debates, school and work from home challenges, job cuts, a contentious election year. 2020 has offered up no shortage of challenges no matter your age or situation. Even deciding how you will celebrate Thanksgiving is causing people stress. According to a recent study by OnePoll, 53% of Americans think the stress will be double this year, with one in ten not even planning to celebrate. For those who do want to chow down on turkey in some way this year, 52% said they feel pressure to make this Thanksgiving absolutely perfect while 56% of respondents are planning to have a video call with their family if they can’t see them in person.
That’s a lot of extra stress for a holiday that can already be stressful with travel plans and hosting duties during a “normal” year. But a day off of school and work should be about relaxing, enjoying delicious food (and maybe a football game or holiday movie) and precious time making memories with family and friends. While you may not be able to make everything perfect during this crazy year, you can keep the conversation positive — whether your small crew is gathered around the table or if the whole gang gets together virtually. Try these helpful tips from conversation and communication experts.
1. Prioritize positivity.
Keep an open mind and a positive attitude. Chances are, you have extended family members, or maybe even some people in your own household, with opinions that are different from yours. Listen, hear their side and present your own, calmly and rationally. If that’s not possible and you feel like you’re talking in circles, pause, note that you agree to disagree and change the subject.
2. Set some ground rules upfront.
If you know you have family members who are bound to get riled up or seem to enjoy starting a little drama, consider displaying or agreeing upon a list of “banned” topics. For example — agree to not discuss politics, everyone’s opinions on masks or religious viewpoints and instead, stick to safer topics — like home improvement projects you’re working on or funny family stories. And when all else fails, there’s always the weather (especially in Michigan).
3. Kick things off with fun conversation starters.
Try one of these 48 questions to get a fun mealtime conversation rolling — with positive topics like food, entertainment and your family member’s life stories. You may learn a thing or two and find more common ground than you thought you had with those aunts, uncles or cousins from another state. When you ask questions like: “What’s the last movie that made you laugh aloud?” or “Who’s the most important role model you’ve had in your life?” — you can truly learn a lot about someone and relate in new, inspiring ways.
4. Lighten the mood with laughter.
Make your Turkey Day table talk seasonal and fun — everyone loves a good laugh. Real Simple offers these 36 funny Thanksgiving conversation starters. It even includes topic starters for a virtual feast. Questions like these are bound to get some funny answers from grown-ups and kids alike:
- What has been your most bizarre quarantine purchase?
- What new — and unexpected — hobby have you started during quarantine?
- What trip are you going to take first once travel restrictions lift?
- If you could have anyone, real or fictional, as a quarantine buddy, who would it be?
- What has been your funniest video call moment?
5. Try table trivia.
Rather than arguing or bumming everyone out with negative topics, turn mealtime into a friendly competition with these fun and free trivia questions that cover a variety of interesting and lighthearted subjects. Make it extra fun with team names or prizes for the winners.
6. Focus on the food.
No matter where you are in the world, a common experience that brings all humans together is food. So — make this Thanksgiving a throwback blast from the past and commit to cooking your family’s most famous recipes. Does Grandma have a stuffing combo that everyone raves about? What about your cousin’s pumpkin pie or your uncle’s turkey prep method? Share your best holiday recipes and find a way to create a virtual or printed family cookbook so all of your kin can keep cooking family favorites for generations to come.
7. Make it about the kids.
Let’s face it, kids have had to be resilient this year — from a scary new virus, to constant school changes and new rules. If you have little ones celebrating the holiday, make it all about them this year. After all, most extended families can put their differences aside for the sake of the children. Arrange the veggie tray in a fun turkey shape, have the kids decorate place cards and get them involved in cooking the meal, opting for healthier substitutions. After your meal, set up a Thanksgiving scavenger hunt, game night or craft. Grandparents love to teach kids their favorite card games and there are so many ideas online (hello, Pinterest) to turn your holiday into a fun fest for the kiddos.
8. Check up on family health history.
National Family Health History Day happens each November around Thanksgiving. The idea is that when families get together, they can carve the turkey and carve out some time to share any updates to the family’s medical history, which can have a big impact on everyone’s individual health. Here are some tips to help make the most of your time together to keep everyone in the fam as healthy as possible.
9. Kick off a kindness train.
Leading with kindness could turn your table talk into a time of helpful solutions for all. Ask this question of each guest (including yourself) — “Is there anything you need help with right now?” You might be surprised what answers pop up. Maybe someone is short on meals or household supplies when others have plenty to spare and share. Kids may need some ideas to stay busy or active while missing their friends or sports. Teens might be willing to help family members rake leaves for a little extra spending money for the holidays. Maybe your elderly family members could use some help choosing a health plan during open enrollment or could just use an ongoing weekly family video chat to stay connected and curb loneliness. And if there are more serious issues with mental health that come up, you can direct your loved ones to so many available resources virtually, and statewide.
10. Know when to step away.
If, even despite your best attempts, things get a little heated — leave the table and take a breather. It may be a good idea to step outside for a quick, brisk walk alone — or with one or two of your guests who make you feel relaxed and at peace. In fact, you can build in some outdoor time for everyone to work off those extra calories after dessert with these safe, outdoor fall activities. Once you get outside and get moving in the fresh fall air, things can feel a lot more positive.
Remember that you can’t choose your family or control all of the chaos of 2020, but you can choose positivity for your holiday season. Looking for more helpful tips? Try these tips on balanced relationships or how to prioritize positive thoughts and boost kindness from health coach Angie.