How to Celebrate a Virtual Thanksgiving

Across the U.S., Thanksgiving celebrations will be different in 2020 due to COVID-19. Here are our tips for throwing a festive gathering from afar.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused Thanksgiving to look a little different than normal. But just because many of us won’t be hosting or attending a big Thanksgiving meal doesn’t mean we can’t have a festive day. Check out these tips for how to celebrate Thanksgiving virtually.

How to Safely Celebrate Thanksgiving

In this year when so many of us haven’t seen friends and loved ones for ages, it’s especially tempting to connect with them at Thanksgiving. But according to COVID-19 guidelines for the holidays from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), attending a large indoor gathering with people from outside your immediate household, even relatives, is a high-risk activity.

So this year, it’s best to follow the CDC guidelines. They consider a small, outdoor, socially-distanced dinner a moderately risky activity. The lowest risk? A small dinner for just your immediate household, and a virtual holiday meal with family and friends far and wide.

Hosting a Virtual Thanksgiving

Many of us have tried FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or some other video chat platform for a one-to-one call with friends or family members. But why not use the same platform to make it a real dinner party?

When your household gathers around the Thanksgiving dinner table, set an extra “place” for your laptop, and position it to include everyone at the table on the webcam. The people on the other side of the screen will almost feel like they’re at the table with you. When you pick your video chat platform, be aware that some limit chat time, the number of participants, or both.

If you’ve got the technical savvy, connect your phone or laptop to your smart TV. When all your guests join the video call, you’ll see them on a large screen. This makes it a lot easier to play Pictionary or other virtual party games after dinner. With older relatives for whom a dinner party might be too risky, try to get them set up ahead of time to join the video call.

Other Ideas for Virtual Celebrations

We’ve collected a bunch of fun ways to create long-distance holiday celebrations.

If you’re skipping get-togethers with local friends and relatives but still want to share the joy of cooking and eating together, organize a sort of round-robin meal prep.

Assign every party member or household one or two Thanksgiving menu items. Keep a shared list of who’s cooking what, create a schedule to coordinate pick-ups and drop-offs, and establish rules for the safe, distanced exchange of food. Allow time for everyone to get home, set their respective tables, reheat all the food and sit down to a communally prepared meal. It’s not the same as being there in person, but look at it this way: A virtual gathering might allow for guests who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to come — pandemic or not — to attend an in-person meal.

If you and your crew usually watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the good news is that the parade will still take place this year, minus the crowds and marching bands. So why not have everyone tune in anyway, and vote for your favorite floats in a WhatsApp or FaceTime group?

Here’s another way to make Thanksgiving special for yourself and someone else: Safely call on an elderly neighbor, or anyone you know who might be alone or lonely this holiday season. In a year that’s been so challenging for so many, we can’t think of a better way to show love and give thanks than dropping off a plate of food and stopping at the doorstep to talk for a few minutes. That small act might make all the difference in someone’s holiday.

Elizabeth Heath
Elizabeth Heath is a travel, lifestyle and home improvement writer based in rural Umbria, Italy. Her work appears in The Washington Post, Travel + Leisure, Reader's Digest, TripSavvy and many other publications, and she is the author of several guidebooks. Liz's husband is a stonemason and together, they are passionate about the great outdoors, endless home improvement projects, their tween daughter and their dogs. She covers a variety of topics for Family Handyman and is always ready to test out a new pizza oven or fire pit.