If You're Hosting A Virtual Thanksgiving This Year, Consider This Your Field Guide

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
Family having a virtual holiday — virtual Thanksgiving

Remember back in March 2020 when the world shut down and we were all like, Ugh, this sucks, looks like Easter will be weird this year! And then Mother’s Day came and there were no brunches or Moms’ Day Out, and then Memorial Day BBQs were canceled, and soon after, summer arrived… Fast forward to the present and, with each passing holiday or season, we’re like, Oh, we’re still doing this. Huh. But we are. Although things have improved in some ways (hooray, vaccines!), we’re still living in pandemic times. Many people are still dealing with the long-term side effects of COVID-19, and many families with members who are considered higher risk continue to be extra cautious to keep the people they love (and those around them) safe. So, heading into the winter holidays, you may be considering a virtual Thanksgiving. What does that mean? Can we still see family? Can we still find joy? Can we still make family memories and uphold the same traditions?

Yes, we can. Sort of. For example, if your Thanksgiving typically involves 35 people from all over the country, including Grandma Jean and Grandpa Ed from Arkansas as well as your cousin Barb from Ohio, well, then no. That may not be a safe option this year, depending on who in your family has been vaccinated and if you have higher-risk loved ones. Because let’s be real, anyone cramming groups of people into one house, sharing food, and breathing into each other’s air space all day while gnawing on a turkey leg is technically still at risk.

However, we don’t have to give up the holidays entirely. Thankfully, this pandemic hit well into the 21st century, which means we have a whole slew of technology to help us connect with loved ones — see their faces even — as we try to make lemonade out of the lemons this pandemic keeps lobbing at us as the years tick on. Keep reading for all of the tips, tricks, hacks, and intel on having a fun virtual holiday season.

The Benefits of Hosting a Virtual Thanksgiving

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Having a virtual Thanksgiving really does have its perks. Not buying it? No sweat; we’ll spell the pros out for you.

  • The more, the merrier. That’s right — you can invite even more people! Your sister who is 9 months pregnant and can’t travel? She can come. Bestie recovering from COVID? Her too!
  • Less mess. As much as we all love the joy of seeing our family and friends on the holidays, the prep work and cleanup can be a true PITA. But virtual holidays require far less work. You don’t have to wipe your baseboards or even worry if your kids left a floater in the toilet! And afterward, you say your “I love yous” and goodbyes, log off, and veg out on the couch to binge your fave show on Netflix instead of scrubbing casserole dishes.
  • The mute button. Perhaps most importantly, the ultimate bonus of online holidays is the ability to mute crusty old Uncle Carl when he gets going on a Fox News-infused political rant no one wants to hear. You’ll never want to return to an in-person Thanksgiving again!

Virtual Thanksgiving Success Tips

Seriously, though, if you’re really going to do this “virtual Thanksgiving” thing right. The following tips can keep your virtual Thanksgiving on track and bound for turkey day glory.

1. Pick Your Platform

The first thing you’ll want to do is to pick a platform that everyone has access to. People seem to like Zoom because it’s pretty user-friendly, and it comes with the huge benefit of being able to record the call so in case you missed Grandpa’s inappropriate jokes about stuffing the turkey. Don’t worry; you can catch them all later. However, if Zoom isn’t your jam, there are endless other options like Google Meets, Twitch, or Just make sure someone’s around to help Aunt Carol Ann, who still uses a corded house phone, figure out how to log in.

2. Send Out Interactive Invites

Another preparatory step that can make your virtual holiday fun is to create interactive online invites. Ask your guests to RSVP and “attend” by joining the event at the appropriate time. Maybe everyone can share a new recipe they are trying this year like Pandemic Pumpkin Pie or COVID-19 Sucks Sangria on the invite page. Or set a “required” dress code. Favorite football team colors? Black tie? Mandatory sweats? You’re the party planner, so you make the rules.

3. Figure Out the Food

OK, next is… well, the food of course. Since no one’s bringing their famous pecan pie or buttery mashed potatoes over, you’ll need to figure out what you’re eating and what everyone else is eating. If your guests are local, a caterer can deliver everyone a boxed meal. Or delivery services like UberEats or GrubHub can drop something special off on the doorstep of every guest, even if they live hours away.

Alternatively, you can do all the cooking in your own homes but do it together. How about sharing recipes? Maybe everyone tries their hand at making Great-Grandmother’s secret gravy and sharing their success — or failure — stories over Zoom. (Grandma’s is always better, though. Remember the rules.) Or you all take a stab at pie baking and wine tasting at the same time and laugh through it together over your virtual chat. Matching Turkey Day aprons would make this more fun, btw.

And remember, you can experiment with far more than food this Thanksgiving. How about trying out a new cocktail? It will make listening to your parents argue over the thermostat way more bearable, promise.

4. Break Out the Thanksgiving Games

Since it’s a party and all, you’ll need a little entertainment as you stuff your bellies with turkey and cranberry sauce. Here at Scary Mommy, a few favorite Thanksgiving board games include Bold Made, Taco Versus Burrito, and Catan. You can play pretty much any board game virtually, as long as one person has the board and is willing to do all the reading and/or moving of player pieces. And, c’mon, these types of games are sure to bring the laughs and awkward inappropriateness we all love experiencing with our relatives.

If everyone wants to get in on the action, you can try virtual Thanksgiving games. Some Thanksgiving games you can play online include a virtual Thanksgiving scavenger hunt, virtual Thanksgiving bingo, or even a virtual murder mystery game for the adults — all of which you can find in various forms with a quick internet search.

A few other ideas for entertainment might include:

  • Cosmopolitan shared an article with a great idea: Play the game What Do You Meme? but with family photos! Imagine the hilarity and embarrassing stories that will ensue.
  • To keep it on par with the theme of Thanksgiving, how about asking everyone to do the good old “What are you thankful for this year?” Only rather than going around a real table, you move around the virtual table instead. This one never gets old and is particularly helpful in a year like this when we all might need to dig a little deeper to find “thankfulness.”
  • Keep the kiddos of your virtual Thanksgiving group entertained by having each household print out free turkey coloring pages and holding a turkey coloring page contest. While the little artists create their works of art, read Thanksgiving riddles out to the adults and see who can answer the most correctly.

5. Create “Touch Points”

You should also consider “creating and scheduling touch points,” suggests Eventbrite’s Virtual Experiences Expert Vivian Chavez. For example, “You can kick the night off with a cocktail hour and chatting, and encourage everyone to mute their mics but keep their cameras on during dinner — that way you can have a peek into everyone’s festivities and feel together, without being glued to your screens,” Chavez explains. “Then, come together at the end of the night for a moment of gratitude and some toasts to send each other off on a high note.”

Also, keep in mind that holiday gatherings — whether in person or virtual — can be overwhelming for people for any number of reasons. Encourage people to mute or take a break if they need it, and also look into closed caption options or screen readers for any guests who might be hard of hearing.

6. Document the Occasion

Another idea is to incorporate the ever-popular “photo booth” we see these days at parties. Only this photo booth, complete with fun face filters and digital costumes, will be virtual, providing COVID-19-safe fun and lots of laughs. Look into companies like Studio Z Photobooths or The Snapbar for ideas and options to get your photo booth up and running so you can capture the night and preserve your memories from “The Great Virtual Thanksgiving of 2021.”

7. Bond With a Little Cyber Holiday Shopping

And finally, we know that in recent years, Thanksgiving has become, for many families, about shopping as much as it’s about turkey and being thankful. If that’s you, and you’re lamenting that you can’t hit the crowds this year with your mom and sister to grab the best Black Friday deals, remember that the stores are putting most of their best deals online due to the pandemic. So you, your mom, and your sister can all log in to Amazon and Best Buy and Urban Outfitters and Sephora and wherever else you planned on making big purchases, and click away while sharing all the awesome deals you’re finding as you stay safely at home, protecting you and your loved ones from COVID-19.

See? Pandemic holidays don’t have to completely suck. You just need a little creativity, a good internet connection, and the willingness to adapt, and you might end up having your best Thanksgiving yet.

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