Zoom Thanksgiving and Beyond

This article today in my local paper, offering tips for Thanksgiving family gatherings “apart, but together,” made me happy.

These tips are great not just for Thanksgiving but for any other holiday or family gathering, or just hanging out whenever. From creating screen backgrounds of family photo montages; to playing board games by video-conference; to cooking the same menu items apart together — using technology in inventive ways is what humans do, and now more than ever is a time when we really need to bring out that inventiveness.

One sister and brother who live far apart even figured out how to position their electronic devices to create the appearance of sitting together at one long family table!!

It occurred to me that remote technology might even make for better gatherings, as multiple clusters of extended family can gather virtually — with no space limitation; no travel expense; freedom from complicated logistics. And consider this: Even in loving families, differences in lifestyle and beliefs can lead to stress on holiday visits. If everyone gets to be in their own houses — “together apart” — that stress is greatly reduced.

Caution: Getting too tangled up in fussing with technology can lead to its own kind of stress. I think it’s OK for families just to text each other a photo or two of the holiday festivities. We do that a lot in my family, and I feel the love coming through even a still photo.

Board games do sound like fun, though!

Zoom holidays take the load off of Mother Earth too. All that holiday travel has a huge footprint.

I don’t want to minimize the pain of missing one’s family. If it felt safe, I’d definitely want to visit my family up north for either Thanksgiving or Christmas. It doesn’t feel safe though.

Speaking of that, friends and family members can have differing ideas of what feels “safe.” Some people barely seem to acknowledge there’s a pandemic going on. Others barely feel safe leaving their houses at all. In my family we’re fortunate; we have generally similar ideas about safety, and we’re also able to respect each other’s slightly differing ideas. Most of my friends are pretty respectful of differences too.

That said, even though we’re respectful, some of my friends have markedly different ideas of what’s safe. Me, I pretty much just want to stay outdoors and I’m fine. If I had to for a family emergency, I’d risk going into an airport and getting on a plane. Otherwise, no way. Air travel was already miserable even before Covid.

Bus or train travel are my favorites but don’t feel safe to me now either. They would if we could ride with the windows open.

With some friends, who seem to be back into indoor gatherings as if nothing had happened, I’ve got FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out. Fear that, because I’m refusing invitations, I’ll never be invited again. But, just as I can’t tell other people how to act, I also don’t want to put others or myself at unnecessary risk.

Some of my friends who had been among the most cautious (wearing masks everywhere, even indoors) are now going completely in the opposite direction. I attribute it to a certain fatalism. Many of these friends work on the bleeding-edge front lines, forced to put themselves at risk every day so people can buy groceries or eat waffles or whatever. Many of these same friends have buried many friends and relatives over the past few months. In their shoes, I could imagine myself saying, “Screw it, might as well enjoy ourselves!”

I don’t know if that’s actually what’s at play with this group of friends, but it would make sense.

I get that some people are feeling lonely and burnt-out. But insisting on hugs, in-person meetings, postponing events “until we can get back to normal” (instead of just holding them outdoors or virtually, or cancelling them entirely) — all of that strikes me as a refusal to adapt to circumstances. And creatures who don’t adapt to circumstances don’t survive. That thought really struck me this morning. It’s true of species, and it’s true of individuals.

Anyway. I’m rooting for Zoom holidays. “Appropriate Technology,” we call it in permaculture when technology is used in a manner that helps shift things in a more sustainable direction. Telecommunication apps are a great example of appropriate technology right now. I think they actually have the potential to bring us closer to one another than we’ve ever been.

Speaking of togetherness, I’ve been hearing about a card game called Vertellis. I hear it was originally developed to spark more meaningful conversation among family members at holiday gatherings. (But it can be used anytime by any group of people.) The game sounds pretty neat. And it looks totally do-able by Zoom.