Priya Parker Wants Us to Reinvent Our Idea of Thanksgiving Gatherings

published Nov 17, 2020
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Thanksgiving Food Fest is a virtual food festival full of turkey, pie, games, and fun, starring many of our favorite cooks, ready to share the secrets of a most delicious Thanksgiving. Watch the event live at @thekitchn on Instagram from November 14-15 (or check back here after if you miss it).

It’s been eight months since COVID-19 upended daily life for all of us as we know it. At this point, to say that we’re all experiencing COVID fatigue seems like an immense understatement. When we asked our readers how they were feeling about the impending holiday season, one common thread was a deep sense of loss. Many of us are missing loved ones, and as Thanksgiving — a time for gathering with those dear to us — draws near, that sense of loss feels especially profound.

As a special treat to cap this past Saturday’s Thanksgiving Food Fest activities, our Editor-in-Chief, Faith, sat down on Instagram Live with author, strategist, and host Priya Parker to discuss how to make our Thanksgiving celebrations special despite the unique challenges we face this year. Priya is the author of the book The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters and host of the New York Times podcast Alone Together, which explores creative ways of meaningfully gathering during the COVID-era, where it’s not always possible, or safe, to gather in person.

Rethinking Old Traditions in 2020

Priya urges us to keep in mind that our only two options are not gathering in ways that may be unsafe or sitting this one out altogether. Instead of focusing on our understandable laments about how different this Thanksgiving will be, Priya encourages us all to ask ourselves, “What is it that we most need this year?”

We aren’t able to do things as we normally would, but what needs do we, and our immediate communities, have and how can we address them safely and responsibly? The answer to this will be different for everyone and depends on the extents that we are willing to go.

For some people, this will include family gatherings which will mean quarantining and testing appropriately in the lead-up to those festivities — but many of us will not be in person with most of our nearest and dearest this Thanksgiving. Priya, however, believes that we over-index the need for in-person gathering, and that this strange year presents us with the opportunity to reinvent old traditions — especially ones that might not really represent who we are anymore.

It’s easy to get caught up in form and doing things just because it’s what we’ve always done, but this year we have the opportunity to do things in an intentional way. Focus on creating a holiday that will bring you the most joy with the things and people you have available to you. This is a chance to get creative. It’s also a chance to acknowledge that the holidays have always been a complicated time for a lot of people, and take some of the pressure off.

Making Zoom Feel Special

While gathering via Zoom will never be able to replace gathering in person, it’s not as limiting as many of us may think. For starters, as Priya points out, Zoom actually gives us a chance to expand our celebrations and include people who might not have otherwise been there, even in “regular” times. Geography is no longer a limit to spending the holidays together. Priya invites us to embrace Zoom gatherings this Thanksgiving with a few specific tips and reminders.

  1. Zoom is a technology, not a place. Give your gathering a real name. Don’t just call it “Zoom Thanksgiving 2020.” The name should have specificity and meaning to what people are showing up for.
  2. Let your wacky cousin lead the show. Don’t necessarily select the obvious people to host. It adds a level of intrigue to see people hosting who you wouldn’t necessarily expect to play host.
  3. Keep it shorter than you think. Unless you’re watching a movie together, or something in that vein, the zoom portion of the day doesn’t have to go on for long. And don’t be afraid to utilize Zoom features like breakout rooms, which provide a more intimate setting.
  4. There are ways to create togetherness through symbols. Although we can’t physically gather this year, it doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to foster a sense of closeness. For example, you could have each family member bring something that has gotten them through this year and share it with everyone. That sharing of information between one another truly is a way of fostering togetherness. Other families might cook together over Zoom. Let symbolic things have meaning this year.

If you want to soak up more of Priya’s wisdom, follow her on Instagram or Twitter.