The pandemic restrictions and health guidelines that discourage travel and encourage small gatherings are bound to affect Thanksgiving dinner guest lists this year.
One option—a virtual celebration—has become an increasingly appealing choice, especially for families with older members who might be at a greater risk for serious symptoms should they contract the illness.
If you do invite family or friends to your home, be sure to check state and local regulations, as the number of people allowed are sometimes restricted by location. Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest holding such celebrations outside, if possible, staying at least 6 feet apart from those you aren’t quarantining with, and wearing a face mask when not eating.
But how does a virtual celebration work, exactly? Can you still make the holiday special with loved ones who are on screens instead of sitting at your table? We've assembled these tips to help you and your loved ones to get the most from a virtual Thanksgiving celebration.
Pick a Platform
The most important thing to do ahead of a virtual gathering is decide how you’ll get together. If a member of each household has an iPhone or Apple device, a group FaceTime call may be easiest, since it doesn’t require a complicated set-up or meeting invitations.
If you’re looking for another online video calling method, options include Google Hangouts or Zoom. Typically, free Zoom calls are limited to 40-minute increments, but the brand recently announced it would lift that restriction for Thanksgiving. Janine Pelosi, Zoom’s chief marketing officer, told us the company wanted to make sure every family was able to celebrate together for free.
“We know Thanksgiving will look a little different this year, so we’re lifting the 40-minute time limit to allow families and loved ones to connect on Zoom for as long as they need and from wherever they are in the world,” she says. “We hope this helps provide a safe and easy way to gather friends and family this Thanksgiving without having to worry about cutting your family gatherings short.”
Send a Meeting Invite
Once you’ve decided how you’ll call, decide when to gather the family. Send out an email invite with all the information and tell your family members exactly how to dial in or join. Don’t forget to include meeting codes and passwords, if applicable.
If you’re going to be video chatting with family members who aren’t as familiar with the technology, consider hosting a run-through the day before to avoid technology glitches on the day of the main event.
Plan Your Menu
If your family gathering is going virtual, you may not need a whole roasted turkey and all the side dishes this year. Alternatives include a festive Thanksgiving charcuterie board for the members of your household, or a smaller-scale menu of your favorite traditional dishes. Having a few staples (like turkey breast or a small batch of mashed potatoes) can make things feel a bit more normal.
Cook Together Virtually
Part of the fun of the big Thanksgiving dinner is making the meal together. If you’re missing this aspect of the holiday, call your mom, aunt or cousins as you prepare the scaled-down meal for your family.
Once everyone has joined the video chat for the virtual feast, spend time chatting and catching up with everyone. Once all the households have finished their meal, it’s time for a round of the classic, “What are you thankful for?” Take turns on video chat or around each table, sharing thoughts of gratitude and thanks.
This story originally appeared on BHG.com
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