Kids, it's upon us: Thanksgiving dinner, or what I like to call the night when I am forced to have the same, how-are-you-what's-new-did-you-get-bangs conversation at least 17 times, is just weeks away. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing my extended family for the holidays, but it can be a exhausting to repeat your small talk script for three hours straight when you've been fasting all day in preparation for the best meal of the year. To avoid the traditional awkwardness, go to your gathering prepared with icebreakers for Thanksgiving dinner.
Icebreakers may seem kind of cheesy, but I promise they're fun and actually do get people loosened up. Once, my mom threw an engagement party for her goddaughter (most of the guests didn't know one another) and she orchestrated a giant newlywed style game about the bride and groom to start the night. At the time, my teenage self thought the game was super lame and was just going to make things more awkward, but by the end of it, the entire party was laughing and acting like they'd known each other for years. If a simple icebreaker can do that for a group of strangers, imagine how effective one could be on people who've known you since you were in diapers. Plus, a get-to-know-you game is a great way to put off the political bloodbath you'll inevitably get into with your conservative Uncle Jerry (at least until after dessert).
If my plan is starting to sound like your uncomfortable family gathering's saving grace, read on for some icebreakers that'll actually do what they're intended to do. And in case it's a long night, it can't hurt to stock up on some fun games, too.
Sometimes the hardest thing about Thanksgiving dinner is finding something to talk about, because what are you supposed to say to someone you haven't seen in a year? That's why I love TableTopics ($25, Amazon), a deck of cards with over 100 questions to get your dinner table conversation going. The questions are surprisingly probing, and you'll be shocked at how comfortable your guests get after answering a few. They even make a version that's specifically designed to get kids talking, so you can even get the littles involved or get them a deck for their own table.
2Who Am I?
Remember that episode of The Office where Michael forces each employee to put a notecard with a "race" on their head and everyone else has to help them figure out what the card on their forehead says? Well, Who Am I is like that game, except not offensive. Prepare a deck of cards with different celebrities and historical figures, and then have your guests attach a card to either their foreheads or their backs. Chaos and fun will ensue as everyone tries to figure out who they are. You can also play this game using HeadBanz ($10, Walmart) if you don't want to prepare the cards yourself.
I have a cousin who I play this with every year, and the game of patterns never gets old. Whoever is "it" will start the game by saying "I'm going on a camping trip and bringing..." and whatever item they bring will be part of a secret rule they came up with: It could be words that start with a certain letter, words that start with the player's initials, words with four letters, etc. It's up to the players to figure out what the rule is, and once you figure it out, you're on the camper's side. The game is over once everyone catches onto the pattern. Puzzling it out will keep kids and adults alike entertained for hours.
If you want to break the ice by getting to know your family members better, people bingo is perfect for you. All you need to provide your family members with is a people bingo sheet (I like this one from Icebreaker Ideas) and a pen or pencil, and then they'll be off to fill out the squares as quickly as possible while learning about their relatives in the process. Whoever gets bingo first wins. Pro-tip: make the bingo cards yourself to include family jokes and stories for extra fun.
A scavenger hunt is a fun option for anyone feeling ambitious in their icebreaker planning or for people who will have a ton of little ones they need to keep entertained at the party. Hide a series of clues around your house that will lead the players to an ultimate prize — perhaps their dessert or a surprise cocktail for the adults? Your guests will warm up to each other in no time as they scour the premises and try to figure out the solution to your clues.
I did this with my friends every year in college, and it was hilarious. Give each of your guests a slip of paper with someone's name on it when they arrive, and have them come up with a superlative for whoever they picked and write it down on a piece of paper. At some point in the evening, host an awards ceremony to give out the superlatives, and let everyone guess who made their's. It's an easy way to remind everyone why they like each other, and it'll make the time pass more quickly.
7Never Have I Ever
My favorite adult icebreaker, Never Have I Ever's mix of absurd questions and ability to get people to reveal fun facts about themselves will dispel any family tension in seconds. Maybe keep this one PG if there are young kids around.