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8 Tips To Have A *Successful* Virtual Thanksgiving

Despite the distance, you can actually still have a fun celebration.

This year, a cross-country flights to grandma's house may be out of the question, but the love and laughter shared around the holiday table doesn't have to go by the wayside. With these tips for a successful virtual Thanksgiving, you can embrace the change and relish in this new normal without missing a beat.

Even in years without a raging global health pandemic, modern technology has allowed families to celebrate Thanksgiving together from afar. Military families, those with loved ones living abroad, and more know what it's like to see their family members carve turkey states away on a screen.

To help make this year's virtual event even sweeter, Zoom announced that the 40-minute limit on free meetings will be lifted on Nov. 26, CNN reported. This means you can have unlimited time to celebrate from afar. Sure, it's not ideal to have to wave at Aunt Sally over a Zoom call instead of sharing a slice of pumpkin pie, but it can still be an amazing way to feel connected on a holiday meant to celebrate all you're thankful for.

Just because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Thanksgiving safety guidelines recommend not sitting elbow to elbow with friends and family who don't live with you this year, that doesn't mean you can't do everything in your power to make the holiday special despite the distance. These tips will help you have a festive virtual celebration that your family will remember for years to come.


Make Meal Prep Fun & Stress-Free

"Plan menus and cocktails ahead of time, share ingredient lists, and make sure everyone is sharing the same Thanksgiving meal virtually," Brittany Anderson, an editor at party planning website The Bash, tells Romper.

Prior to the big day, swap virtual recipes with your virtual guests and take time to plan out what you might eat together. You can also share in the meal-making festivities by video chatting while cooking instead of just during the meal.

If having the same menu isn't feasible though, don't stress. "If you’re hoping to bring some traditional aspects to your Thanksgiving celebration, focus on eating dinner together with your guests, and place less of a focus on the type of dinner each person is eating," Eventbrite virtual experiences expert Vivian Chaves tells Romper. "Allowing your loved ones to eat the food they choose will help make your event more enjoyable and ease the stress for each of your attendees."


Consider Camera Placement

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"Set up your laptop, tablet or phone in a stable location that allows you to be hands-free during your virtual Thanksgiving," Chaves tells Romper. This way, you can move around the dinner table, engage in conversation, and actually eat without holding a device the entire time.

"You’ll also want to make sure that the camera on your device is at eye level to personalize the experience for your guests," Chaves explains. "You might need to add a few books, boxes or other stable objects underneath your device to get your camera at the right height. If you don’t have a laptop and are using your phone, I highly recommend investing in a tripod or ring light, so your arms don’t wear out quickly."


Send Out Care Packages

"If you’re the host, sending a small care package with some decor like a simple string banner, printed recipe cards for the main course and sides, and a treat like cookies or cake pops will garner excitement and help everyone feel connected," Anderson tells Romper. "If possible, you can include mini bottles of wine or champagne so that every can do a 'cheers' together virtually."


Use Custom Backgrounds

Boring Zoom call backgrounds are so spring 2020. Inject some life into your virtual Thanksgiving event by selecting a fun backdrop for your call.

"Use Zoom and have everyone use a custom Thanksgiving themed background like one of these," Anderson tells Romper. Choose from silly turkey graphics, colorful fall leaves, picture-perfect pumpkin pies, and more.


Plan Your Itinerary Ahead Of Time

"Try to give your virtual Thanksgiving some structure with an itinerary. It’s helpful to create a schedule for your guests — but also be ready to roll with last minute changes," Chaves tells Romper.

Just like we do when juggling work and school schedules, having a plan in place can help ease some of the stress that may come from planning a virtual event.

"Setting an agenda and sharing it in advance can help guests structure their home life so they can tune into the elements of the experience that they’re especially excited by," Chaves says. "An agenda or schedule of sorts can also keep the experience moving and help make the event feel more natural, with fewer awkward pauses."


Play Games & Share Stories

"The key is to make sure that everyone feels involved in the virtual conversation—so an activity is the way to go," Anderson tells Romper. "Have everyone share what they’re thankful for, play a game, have a talent show or share family history."

Swapping family stories around the virtual table is one sure-fire way to help friends and loved ones connect during virtual gatherings. After all, nothing says "family dinner" more than re-telling the story about the time your Uncle Joe burned the turkey to a crisp.

For games, Chaves suggests activities like Thanksgiving photo scavenger hunts, Pictionary, and asking "Would you rather" questions. "You may also consider discussions or games that shed light on the indigenous people who were at the original Thanksgiving table," Chaves says. "Perhaps guests can share the native tribes that were on their city’s land back in 1621, or find an interesting contemporary native musician or artist to share during the event. Eventbrite has a ton of great events by indigenous event creators if you need more inspiration."


Hire Virtual Entertainment

"You probably don’t have entertainment at your traditional Thanksgiving dinner — but this isn’t a normal year, so why not kick it up a notch," Anderson tells Romper. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that there are no rules anymore, and anything goes.

"If your gathering is all adults, consider booking a comedian for a short set or a singer guitarist to play a few songs," Anderson says. "Looking for something more kid friendly? Hire a magician for a quick show or start the holidays early with a visit from a virtual Santa."


Embrace The Moment

Anderson's best advice for how to approach this holiday season: "Make the best of it!" She tells Romper that a virtual gathering is still a chance to connect with loved ones, regardless of distance. "This isn’t a typical Thanksgiving celebration, but you still get to 'see' your loved ones — maybe even some family members who live far away too!"


Brittany Anderson, editor, The Bash

Vivian Chaves, Eventbrite virtual experiences expert