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It's been more than a decade since I wrote the first edition of "David's guide to surviving Thanksgiving" as an article for my website. It dealt with the mix of dark meat turkey, Jedi family management skills, and a little tech. It was one of my most popular articles ever.
Since then, I've evolved and refined the techniques each year and published it here on ZDNET.
In America, Thanksgiving means parades, football, families, and food. The last two, of course, are the challenge, and here's where my life-changing survival guide comes in.
It took me well into my 30s to develop techniques that, when used together, never fail to make Thanksgiving enjoyable to me and those around me.
1. Understand that sharing air makes things weird
We've just been through nearly three years of a global pandemic. Some people are living in a glorious, returned-to-normal post-pandemic world. For others, masks, isolation, and precautions are still very necessary.
This chart from the CDC shows weekly cases (in blue) and deaths (in orange). Notice the two yellow zones. Those represent the month or so just after Thanksgiving and Christmas. See how the death rates jump? That's most likely because of the increase in exposure during the holidays, which resulted in deaths a few weeks later.
If you have a Thanksgiving gathering, keep this in mind. If a family member needs to wear a mask, be kind and understanding. If you live somewhere warm, consider holding your event outdoors, to reduce the chance of flu, RSV or Covid from spreading much as it does indoors.
Wow! 2022 has been a heck of a year, hasn't it? I can't talk to anyone, anywhere without politics jumping into the discussion. Folks are upset, angry, happy, proud, pissed, cranky, furious, elated, and worried. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, one thing you're sure to agree with is that the emotional content is charged.
Save yourself pain, not to mention flying mashed potatoes, and agree that everyone, everyone (that means you, Cousin Frank) will leave politics at the door.
3. Really giving thanks
After all the fraught stuff I just discussed, I want to point out the real importance and power of giving thanks.
It's been a few years since my parents passed away. It's easy to go to a dark place with that, but instead, I've chosen to be thankful for all the years I had with them, all they taught me, and all they provided me. I'm thankful for their wisdom and guidance.
I'm also thankful for my wonderful wife, my adorable pup, our editors here at ZDNET, and all of you. This is a two-way conversation and we here at ZDNET are always aware that we get to do this great gig because of all of you. Thank you.
Whether or not you thank your deity, the Force, or just nothing at all, the act of feeling grateful, of truly acknowledging what good is in your life, can be deeply affirming and powerful.
4. It's all about the dark meat
This is the technique that started it all. You may or may not like turkey, and you may or may not like dark meat. I love dark meat turkey, and I'm not really a fan of white meat. A key element of David's Patent-Pending Thanksgiving Survival Program is to make the day all about dark meat turkey.
Your mission, notwithstanding the above Covid discussion, is to get to the celebration and to get the dark meat before anyone else can. If you have to hockey check your uncle Bill to get that haunch, do it. If you have to blockade the kitchen door, do it. Whatever it takes, get yourself that plate full of dark meat (and maybe some gravy).
The dark meat quest is extremely satisfying, but it'll backfire without the next technique.
5. Effusively compliment the cook
Nothing reclassifies you from "rude, gluttonous pig" to "extremely polite, nice person" than complimenting the cook. A lot. In every way you can think of. You may have just practiced your body block technique on Uncle Bob, but if you turn to Aunt Alice and tell her how much you love her turkey, you'll get that welcome smile.
I'm serious about this. You can get away with nearly any marginally reprehensible behavior at a family gathering if you make sure to effusively say nice things to the cook.
Editor's note: Even better, help clean up while you compliment the cook.
I know how compelling the portable electronic gadgets we have can be, especially when Aunt Martha is going on and on about her bursitis. We have now reached a point in our world where it's considered commonplace for everyone at an event to spend more time staring into their phones than at the other guests.
No matter. The point of this tip is simple: If you find yourself talking more to Siri than your family, it's time to turn off the devices and ask your aunt what bursitis is, anyway. Then make nice, sympathetic noises, say "awww" and "I hope it gets better" a few times, and then snag some more food.
The inevitable discussion of family illnesses, the shameful children poorly raised by the neighbors, and whether or not Uncle Jack will be denied parole again are all part of what makes Thanksgiving the holiday it is. And, besides, if you listen to your family, on the way home, you'll be able to turn to your partner and exclaim, "Can you believe that Martha and her bursitis, bursitis, bursitis?"
7. Put away all your tiny screens
We're all tethered to these small devices that somehow seem to suck in all our attention. During the workweek, and even during normal weekends, we often need to keep the channels of communication open.
But there is nothing else going on while you're eating your Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone else in America is doing the same thing. Your co-workers are with their families, your friends are with theirs. Even customers and clients are busy scooping mashed potatoes into their faces.
Take this incredibly rare opportunity to turn off the blinkenlights. Shut down your screens.
We all need a break, don't we? Just a few short hours without boinks and beeps and flashes and tiny little text would be nice, wouldn't it?
8. Thanksgiving doesn't have to be traditional
Now, you all know I love me some dark meat turkey. It might surprise you, then, to learn that some years, I didn't have any dark meat. In fact, there have been many Thanksgivings where I didn't even have turkey.
One year, because of certain scheduling issues, we couldn't get together on the traditional day, so we picked the preceding Sunday and decided to meet at a completely non-traditional choice: An awesome BBQ ribs place. And, yes, for you folks south of the Mason-Dixon line, who know the difference between grilling and barbeque, this was barbeque. Oh, my frickin' gosh, was this barbeque. Whooowah!
After college, I moved to California and my family was still back East. For a while, I couldn't afford to fly home for Thanksgiving, and neither could many of my other recent college graduate-age friends. We all went out to Chinese food. As a result, I often conflate Chinese food with Thanksgiving because of all those wonderful holidays with the best of friends.
So, as you move toward your Thanksgiving, remember that it's not only about traditional foods, and it's not even about the traditional day, it's about friends and family and feeling thankful.
9. Give mom a break
I know that mom isn't the only one who toils in the kitchen all week to masterfully create a Thanksgiving dinner experience. This is about giving a break to anyone who takes on this important chore.
Sometimes, creating a Thanksgiving feast is just too much, especially as our parents' age. For years, my mom would insist on doing all the work, although in later years it became clear it was harder and harder for her. She identified with making a nice table for her family and couldn't be talked out of it.
In her last few years, though, it really was too much. Somehow, the feast-making gene didn't pass down to either my wife or me, but the ordering food gene is almost a superpower. So, instead of my mom putting in all the hard work those years, we pre-ordered Thanksgiving meals from one of our favorite local restaurants and brought the entire feast down to Mom and Dad's.
No, it wasn't just like mom used to make, and no, there wasn't even be any dark meat. But it's one of those special memories I can be grateful for this year.
10. Bring your repair kit, or don't
Thanksgiving has taken on another role in American society, that of the "Great American Fix My Computer Day." That's right, for most moms and dads in America, Thanksgiving is the culmination of a week of food preparation. And for most of us geeks, it's the day we spend fixing all our relatives' stuff.
Most geeks don't mind spending their day off essentially working. Many of us are often more comfortable fiddling with wires than conversing with Cousin Harriet about her recent surgery.
And while us good techies are ready and willing to fix anything our families throw at us, we do find one thing hard to manage: the coordination between eating and fixing.
Most non-geeks rightly think of us as technical gods, able to fix anything instantly with a mere wave of our mouse hand. This, of course, is true. Except for the instantly part.
Reinstalling an operating system, removing viruses, or upgrading software takes time. In between typing in codes, clicking on annoying reminders, and selecting the time zone, we're able to come to the table and chow down.
Before you embark for your Thanksgiving adventure, you have a big decision to make. Would you prefer to spend more time fixing computers (and thereby avoiding your family) or would you prefer to spend more time eating (but having to endure endless chat about doctors)?
If you choose to hide, bring your full repair kit. But if you prefer to eat, then don't.
11. Discuss new assistive devices that might help older family members
A few years ago, the Apple Watch was just a fancy watch. But now, it's a medical device and an emergency notification devices, all in one package. As my dad got older, he tended to fall. This is a problem for seniors, and one fall can cause very serious harm. Worse, for those seniors living alone, or who might fall in a part of the house where others can't hear (like a garage or a backyard), it could be hours before help is available.
Now, however, the Apple Watch (Series 4 and later) has a fall detection feature. Once set up, if the watch wearer takes a tumble and doesn't disable the notification, the watch can contact emergency services or a family member. If you want to make sure your family member can have fall notification even if they're away from the house, be sure to purchase the cellular version of the Watch. An Apple Watch isn't cheap, but the cost of delaying medical care after a severe fall can be far more expensive. If you want, get a refurbished Series 4 Watch, which is what I did. I don't regret the decision one bit.
Another device that can support aging family members is the Echo Show. This is a device that allows you to teleconference family members quickly and easily. With permission from members of your family, you can easily drop in to see how they're doing, chat together from a distance, and give grandparents a no-fuss way to see their grandkids. Plus, a new feature allows a sight-impaired individual to hold up a pantry item to the device for help identifying common household supplies.
I know I told you to leave the technology at the door during Thanksgiving, but these devices can be so transformative and helpful in caring for aging parents, that it might be worth taking the time Thanksgiving provides to either show off how these devices work or at least talk over the benefits. With Black Friday sales already in progress, you might even be able to get these products at a substantial discount.