(NEXSTAR) – Of all the delicate subjects to broach at Thanksgiving dinner, the topic of immunization—and whether or not everyone at the table is vaccinated—doesn’t need to be one of them. But that’s only because it should be discussed beforehand.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and with it comes the annual anxieties associated with hosting, attending, or merely being present at a family get-together. This being the first Thanksgiving after the widespread availability of the COVID-19 vaccine also means that more families may be comfortable hosting an in-person gathering—if that’s something they truly believe they want to do.
“It’s important to think first about where you really stand on things,” said Lizzie Post, the great-granddaughter of Emily Post and the copresident of the Emily Post Institute. “Instead of saying, ‘It’s possible to gather this year,’ a host should be thinking, ‘Does this fit with my personal safety goals, and where I’m at with this pandemic?’”
“Once you know how you feel, it’s going to make it a lot easier to be polite to other people when you’re issuing an invitation,” said Post, also the host of the “Awesome Etiquette” podcast. “This is probably some of the hardest etiquette stuff we will be up against in our lives,” she said. “It’s always about trying to make the best of a bad situation. And I think that’s really hard.”
Hosts should be clear about their expectations
Hosts can expect fewer headaches if they make their expectations and requirements known well in advance of Thanksgiving dinner. “Tell them you’ve been preparing, that you’ve come to a decision,” Post said. “You can say something like, ‘I’m really looking forward to Thanksgiving, hoping we can all gather. In order to do so, we feel comfortable asking that guests are vaccinated, or, if you’re not vaccinated, that you wear a mask when indoors or in close proximity with others. If this works, we’d love to see you. If it doesn’t, we’d love to catch up another time, or via Zoom.’”
Granted, these kinds of stipulations are not impervious to complaints, and may end up offending an invitee. That said, hosts should be ready to field those complaints in a calm, patient manner. If both parties can come to an understanding, great. If not, the host should be empathetic while remaining firm.
“Recognizing someone’s emotions or their reaction to (the rules you outlined) is OK to do,” said Post. “You don’t have to say, ‘You’re being ridiculous’ or some similar comment. Let them know you’re truly sorry that this has created a difficult situation.”
Guests should ask questions if they have concerns
Guests on the receiving end of an invitation may likewise be concerned, but it’s always within reason to ask follow-up questions of the host, according to Post. “Ask what you need to ask,” she said. “Do so with a tone that is curious and upbeat—the idea here isn’t to be skeptical. It’s to gather the information you need to make a decision, not to judge.”
Unfortunately, guests should keep in mind that a host has no obligation to change the requirements for guests. “They’re inviting you to something. You choose whether to say yes or no to it.”
Above all, Post said, it’s important to remember that everyone—both hosts and guests—are not trying to create additional drama within their families by setting rules or asking questions. “This is the second year that our family traditions are canceled or different than they’re used to. It’s valid that someone would be stressed or upset, and telling them ‘tough patooties’ is not a polite way to recognize their feelings,” Post said. “We’re all trying to build better relationships despite these challenges. Which is exactly what politeness can do.”