With the pandemic still surging into the fall, many Americans are heeding the advice of the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) when it comes to making holiday plans. The CDC advises against indulging in several of our usual traditions, including in-person Thanksgiving feasts with friends and family from outside your immediate household, due to the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Luckily there are lots of fun, creative—and low-risk—ways to celebrate the Thanksgiving season. Among them is the option to invite distant friends and relatives to a virtual Thanksgiving dinner, where families gather around their own tables at home and connect with loved ones via Zoom or other online tool, to all enjoy the meal together—just not in person.
Having Thanksgiving dinner via video chat might seem like a meager substitute for gathering in person, and in some respects that might be true. Sure, Aunt Ruby won’t be able to pinch your cheeks and you can’t hug Grandpa, but there are lots of up-sides, too! Online dinner can actually be quite similar to a traditional dinner, with added benefits like avoiding inconvenient travel, and being able to mute Great Uncle Harry when he gets onto one of his political rants.
Looking for ways to enjoy the safety of a virtual Thanksgiving dinner, while still making it super special? Here are eight ideas that will be so much fun, you might even want to start celebrating online every year!
Play a game
To keep people busy and engaged while they wait for the turkey to cook or digest that extra slice of pumpkin pie, it’s great to have some unique game ideas at the ready—especially if they encourage interaction and learning new things about each other. Family Dinner Project has a ton of fun games on their site; here are a few of our favorites:
- Would You Rather is a great game you can play anywhere, anytime and it doesn’t require a thing. Would you rather be a dog or a cat? Would you rather eat dessert every morning or stay up past your bedtime every night? The questions are endless, and can be adjusted based on the ages of those playing—you can look here for some inspiration.
- Two Truths and a Tall Tale is another easy one to try. Each person comes up with three things to share about themselves but only two are true, and it’s up to everyone else to figure out which one is not. It’s a great way to learn more about each other and have fun in the process!
- Can You Remember? is a super simple game that you can play without any preparation. Close your eyes (or have everyone turn off their cameras) and share what you can remember. What color shirt is Grandma wearing? What’s on the wall in your cousin’s Zoom background? See who has the best memory. Spoiler alert: It’s usually the kids.
- Thanks Tag starts with one person thanking another attendee for something they appreciate, at which that person becomes “it.” They in turn thank someone else, and so on until everyone has been showered with gratitude!
Teach a talent
Virtual meet-ups are particularly well-suited for giving tutorials, so ask around and see if there’s a talent anyone wants to share. Maybe an aunt or uncle has a special Thanksgiving dish that everyone loves, or Grandma wants to pass down her secret pie recipe—prior to the event, they could host a virtual cooking class for the rest of the family, then everyone can enjoy the food together during Thanksgiving dinner. During the meal, maybe the person who’s best known for carving the turkey can share their secrets, or perhaps someone wants to show the adults how to mix the perfect after-dinner cocktail.
Spark a fun convo
Whether there’s a lull in the chatter or you want to steer the discussion away from something heated, it’s nice to have a few topics in mind to spark fun, creative conversation. Try some of these suggestions from ParentsTogether’s collection, which are great for all ages:
There are plenty of actual trivia games you could play, but why not keep it family focused? Collect bits of information and fun facts from your family members, and put together a trivia game based on everyone who’ll be at dinner! Whose gone skydiving? Who always wanted a pet snake? Who doesn’t like marshmallows anymore because they once ate WAY too many s’mores at a cookout? You’re sure to learn a lot about each other, and have lots of laughs along the way.
Hone in on history
Thanksgiving is a time for reflection on what’s important, and a great time to look back at the past. You can collect photos from family members and present them as a slideshow during dinner, allowing time for everyone to reminisce and share memories or tell stories that other family members may not have ever heard. You can also dive in deeper and learn about the history of the land where you live. Investigate the Native Lands interactive map to explore the cultures of the Indigenous people who once lived in each of your regions, or go on Scholastic’s First Thanksgiving virtual tour to step aboard the Mayflower and explore the Wampanoag Homesite.
Thanksgiving Scavenger Hunt
Have an energetic group, or several young kids who’d welcome an excuse to get up from the table and run around? Make a list of Thanksgiving-themed items (a turkey decoration, a can of cranberry sauce) or actions (name five Native American tribes, name a Thanksgiving dish that starts with P) and announce them one at a time. Points go to whichever household can complete or fulfill each challenge first!
One of the things that makes Thanksgiving a great holiday is the opportunity to connect with loved ones one-on-one or in small groups. That might seem impossible with a virtual celebration, but it’s easier than you think! Before or after the meal, you can have everyone meet in a virtual space like High Fidelity, which sets up a “room” where everyone appears as a dot. You can move yourself around and join a few relatives for a chat about football, while the kids gather in the corner to talk about the latest TikTok fad. It’s audio-only, so it’s a great alternative to being glued to a screen, and the audio does a good job of mimicking what it’s like to be in a room with a group of people.
It’s important to remember that, while having a virtual Thanksgiving isn’t exactly like dinners in years past, a lot of the same traditions can stay alive. Many families pause each year to go around the table and take turns naming things they’re thankful for, and that might be more important this year than ever. Even if you’re all on screens, you can still take a moment to appreciate the good things—and hopefully, your virtual Thanksgiving dinner will be one of the things you’re grateful for in 2020.