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Tips for a Successful Virtual Thanksgiving

For generations, Thanksgiving has been a time for large family gatherings, and many families travel long distances to celebrate together. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, our Thanksgiving celebrations will likely look much different.

Although it’s a strange year for sure, with some creativity and an open mind, your family can find new ways to celebrate the holiday together—even if you’re apart.

A virtual feast
To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that families who usually travel to see other hold a virtual Thanksgiving this year.

CDC guidelines recommend a small dinner with only people who live in your household, and that you include family and friends outside your household in a virtual gathering. You can do this through Zoom, a free web-based videoconferencing platform, FaceTime or another video chat app on your phone or tablet.

Tips for your (virtual) Turkey Day
While an online event can’t replace the connections of an in-person party, there are ways to ensure virtual feasts are still meaningful and memorable.

  • Realize this is temporary. It’s not “the way we’ve always done it” but be open to new ideas and ways of celebrating this year in light of COVID-19. Remember, a virtual family gathering is better than no family gathering at all.
  • Share recipes ahead of time. Share your family’s traditional Thanksgiving recipes with everyone on your virtual guest list so all can prepare and enjoy the same meal. Or, maybe you’re the one who always brings the green bean casserole to Thanksgiving. If most of your family members live locally, make pre-portioned packages of your coveted dish ahead of time and drop it off on their doorstep.
  • Plan to watch sporting events and parades at home. Many of us look forward to football or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Turkey Day as much as we do the stuffing and pumpkin pie. The CDC recommends that you and your family watch sports, parades and movies from home this holiday instead of attending live events.
  • Set a time limit. Prevent “Zoom burnout” by setting a time limit on the call or chat. Set up your laptop at end of the table to converse with family throughout dinner, or during meal prep. Then, say your good-byes and let family members continue to celebrate with their respective households. Or, pick just one component of the holiday to make virtual—say, the cutting of the turkey, a pre-dinner toast or dessert.
  • Add some entertainment. Have a group reading of a short story or poem, or tell the history of the first Thanksgiving. Choose a family member to recite a blessing or prayer. Ask a child or teen to tell a few jokes, or share the latest TikTok dance. If you have family members that are musically inclined, ask them to perform a song or two. With old traditions on hold, let your family come up with creative ways to make new memories.
  • Send Thanksgiving care packages. Mail or deliver treats and supplies to help guests feel part of the fun. Bake small pumpkin pies or a batch of pumpkin muffins and drop them off on doorsteps, or ship by mail. Involve your children in making matching centerpieces or decorations for everyone to display on their holiday tables.
  • Create a gratitude bowl. Ask everyone on your virtual guest list to start this process a few weeks before Thanksgiving. Each day, each person writes something they’re grateful for on a slip of paper and adds it to their household bowl. During your Thanksgiving virtual event, take turns reading aloud.
  • Try a new twist on a potluck. Since a traditional in-person potluck isn’t possible, ask every person to “bring” something to share virtually—like a favorite family photo, a child’s art project, short poem or post-dinner blessing.
  • Skip the stores and shop online. Another tradition for many families is the shop-til-you-drop excursion after dinner on Thanksgiving or the day after. Discuss with your family a safer shopping alternative this year—make your Black Friday purchases online, or take advantage of contactless curbside pick-up. In fact, 71% of Americans say they plan to do more than half of their holiday shopping digitally this year.
  • Make Thanksgiving resolutions. Over dessert, ask each person to say something they would like to learn, try or do more of by Thanksgiving next year. Write each resolution down and share it next Turkey Day to see how they did on their resolutions. This is a nice way to wind down your virtual dinner and also to remind us all that we have a lot to look forward to after the pandemic.

Resources:, CBS News, Centers for Disease Control, Connecticut Children’s Hospital, eMarketer Inc., Fox News, Global News, Zoom, Future US Inc.

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