How to host a virtual Thanksgiving


The year 2020 has been remarkably tough, with a whole lot of events and traditions scaled back or canceled altogether due to the coronavirus. But is Thanksgiving off the table?

Top health officials do say the safest way to spend the holiday this year is to celebrate only with those in your immediate household. As we prepare for Thanksgiving feasts, the United States is grappling with a strong resurgence of COVID-19 cases and record-high levels of hospitalizations.

An alternative to traditional gatherings? Meet up with your friends and extended family members virtually this Thanksgiving.

This year, more than half of people plan to celebrate Thanksgiving with five or fewer guests, down from 12 in typical years, according to a new Harris Poll conducted for Omaha Steaks. One in three is considering having a virtual get-together in place of an in-person gathering, according to the poll.

“You don’t want to be the grinch that stole the holidays,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). But he cautioned that families should evaluate their personal risks in bringing elderly relatives or those with underlying conditions together for Thanksgiving.

Fauci said many emerging COVID-19 cases can be traced back to small gatherings (six to 10 people) between friends and family members. In these instances, it’s been common that one person in the group was infected with COVID-19, but was asymptomatic — a scenario Fauci warns could play out on a grand scale if Thanksgiving gatherings are not limited.

We asked experts how to host a virtual Thanksgiving. Here, are their best tips:


Embrace Technology In A Fun Way

Start by sending out invites. You can find some Turkey Day-themed invitations on Evite. Then, send a make-your-own gingerbread house kit to each household participating in your virtual Thanksgiving, suggests Erica Keswin, author of “Rituals Roadmap: The Human Way to Transform Everyday Routines into Workplace Magic.” When you hop on the Zoom call, everyone can show off their candy masterpieces.


Share Family Recipes

In normal times, your guests might show up with a side dish or dessert to share. You can encourage the spirit of this by sharing favorite family recipes. Share these with your virtual guests in advance so everyone can enjoy some of the same dishes come Thanksgiving, says Bonnie Tsai, founder and director of Beyond Etiquette. If you miss cooking or baking with friends or family, schedule a Thanksgiving prep session over Zoom.


Sync Up Your Schedules

In addition to scheduling a Zoom call so that you can feel a sense of togetherness during your Thanksgiving feast, you can also plan to watch the same holiday movie or show together, suggests Andrea Correale, the founder of Elegant Affairs. To do this, put on a show and share your screen during a Zoom call or through other video-conferencing software. You can also use something like Chrome extension Teleparty, which was previously Netflix Party, to sync viewing across streaming accounts.


Deliver Your Dishes

Make a pumpkin pie that everyone loves? Or are your mashed potatoes requested every year? If your virtual guests live nearby, consider preparing multiple individual servings of your specialty dish and dropping them off, Tsai suggests.


Do A Dessert Swap

Again, if you live close to your family and friends, you could create a pie-baking competition, says Correale. Each participant makes their favorite pie and delivers slices to one another’s homes. Then, host a competition over Zoom.


Share Gratitude

Schedule some time during your virtual Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving gathering for everyone to share what they’re grateful for and what they’re looking toward in the future, Tsai says.


Send A Care Package

You could create a gift for each of your guests, and have it shipped to households in advance of your gathering, says Keith Willard, president of Keith Willard Events. Maybe it’s bottles of the same wine that everyone can toast to, or perhaps it’s a festive tablecloth, he says. Or send the ingredients and instructions for a dessert.


How will you be spending Thanksgiving this year?

Family & Parenting, Holiday & Seasonal, Tips & Advice
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About the Author
Brittany Anas
Hi, I'm Brittany Anas (pronounced like the spice, anise ... see, that wasn't too embarrassing to say, now was it?) My professional writing career started when I was in elementary school and my grandma paid me $1 for each story I wrote for her. I'm a former newspaper reporter, with more than a decade of experience Hula-hooping at planning meetings and covering just about every beat from higher-education to crime to science for the Boulder Daily Camera and The Denver Post. Now, I'm a freelance writer, specializing in travel, health, food and adventure.

I've contributed to publications including Men's Journal, Forbes, Women's Health, American Way, TripSavvy, Eat This, Not That!, Apartment Therapy, Denver Life Magazine, 5280, Livability, The Denver Post, Simplemost, USA Today Travel Tips, Make it Better, AAA publications, Reader's Digest, Discover Life and more.

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