10 Ideas to Make Your Virtual Thanksgiving Actually Feel Festive

Like everyone else, I’ve had plenty of low days this year, but one of the lowest was the day I had to cancel the reservations I’d made months ago to go home for the holidays. It was just too risky to fly transatlantic to visit my retired parents. 

Now, like a lot of folks, I’m staring at the calendar wondering how to make the upcoming holidays feel less like a depressing reminder of everything wrong with 2020 and more like an actual festive gathering with my much-missed loved ones. At least I am a writer by trade and can trawl through expert advice for inspiration.  

I’m not going to lie and say I found any magic bullets that make not seeing my folks for close to a year now OK. But I did find plenty of thoughtful, fun ideas that could help entrepreneurs far from their families make Thanksgiving over Zoom (and any other upcoming virtual holiday) feel more festive and less lonely. 

1. Have a Zoom cooking class. 

You can’t gather around the oven baking pies and jiggling turkey legs, but you can still share the joy of cooking with your loved ones. Sign up your family’s best cook to instruct everyone in the mysteries of their beloved stuffing or perfect pie over Zoom, suggests Cosmopolitan. “Have them send around an ingredients list ahead of time, so that everyone can follow along in their own kitchen,” suggests the magazine. 

2. Plan a virtual watch party. 

If your usual family gathering centers around watching the big game or the annual Thanksgiving Day parade, there’s no reason to give up the tradition, just do it virtually. Jared Reichert, the co-founder of the digital-events start-up Kiki Kit, suggests using Airtime on The Cut

3. Take a family photo. 

Will your 2020 photo look anything like other years’? No, but a socially distant family photo is still better than no family photo at all. Plus, could anything be a better souvenir of 2020 then a shot of everyone lined up like the Brady Bunch in a bunch of Zoom windows. (I promise one day we’ll look back and laugh.) 

4. Go big with the video.  

The New York Times‘s Wirecutter blog has a technical suggestion to improve your virtual Thanksgiving: “Dining virtually can be a challenge when you’re limited to the small screen on your smartphone or laptop. One way to enhance your viewing experience is by taking advantage of other electronics you may already have. Broadcasting your computer display on your TV can make your far-away family feel a little more life-size.” 

5. Plan a socially distanced Turkey Trot.  

Running on Thanksgiving is nearly as divisive as the recent presidential election, but if your family is one of those that enjoys a bracing Turkey Day 5k, there’s no need to give up your (weird) tradition this year. Several experts suggest organizing each family member to run locally, using an app like Strave to track their efforts. Later, you can crown a winner over Zoom. 

6. Set a festive dress code.  

You’ve been wearing the same pair of sweats for the last seven months. Why not use the upcoming holidays as an excuse to have some fun with your clothes again? Whether your family chooses an ugly holiday sweater theme or uses the day as an excuse to break out your favorite formal attire, “the ritual of getting ready for a party can create anticipation and excitement for the event itself,” Eventbrite’s virtual experiences expert, Vivian Chaves, tells Forbes

7. Play games.  

Hanging out over Zoom can be awkward and dull unless you have some kind of focal point to organize and liven up the event. Games are a great way to do that and the experts have suggestions for all tastes, from a family pie-eating contest (personally, no thank you) to old standbys like Monopoly. 

8. Set a “signature cocktail” for the event. 

A few additional cocktails have helped lots of us weather 2020. Deciding on a shared signature cocktail for your virtual event ahead of time can help you bring a little additional cheer to your virtual holiday gathering as well. Cosmo offers a receipt for a fall-themed Apple Cider Ginger Bourbon Smash cocktail, if you’re looking for seasonal inspiration. 

9. Give yourself permission to skip the turkey.  

Let’s be frank–the best thing about roasting a turkey is you can feed a boatload of people with one dish. If you’re not having a boatload of people at your place this year, please don’t feel obligated to cook a turkey (or any kind of poultry) just because of tradition. If you want to eat paella or Pad Thai, eat paella or Pad Thai. 

10. Say thanks. 

Your Thanksgiving might be virtual this year but it’s still Thanksgiving, meaning a holiday centered on giving thanks. Counting your blessings won’t just make you happier, it’ll also make you more resilient, according to science. And we could all use a little more resilience right now. So find a way to work a little gratitude into your Zoom event. There are lots of ideas out there for ways to express gratitude beyond just going around and sharing your blessings (though if that works for you, great). 

And how about if you live close to your loved ones and are still thinking of pushing ahead with an in-person gathering despite the virus? Then check out this epidemiologist’s recommendations for a safe in-person gathering, along with her explanation of how she’s personally handling the holidays.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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