Many of us are getting used to the idea that an in-person Thanksgiving with all of our loved ones is unlikely because of pandemic safety concerns.
It's looking like 2020 will be the year of the Zoom Thanksgiving. So how do we make that as festive as we can? From shared menus to organized games and discussions, some planning and coordination can go a long way.
"The idea is to still feel unified in some way," says Etsy trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson.
A table with a view
For once, electronic devices at the table are something to celebrate. Think about how you will position your laptop or other device so those dining with you remotely can see as many people at your table as possible. This may involve changing up the seating arrangements, putting more people on one side of the table than usual.
Your computer or phone might sit on a buffet, side table or the table itself. You also could move it around as the evening goes on.
Maryanne Sullivan of Jersey City, N.J., plans to leave the head of the table empty and put her laptop there, while her Massachusetts-based brother does the same at his family's table. The effect, she says, will "be a continuation of one long table."
Happy meals, virtual meals
If you have family or friends who might be unable to cook for themselves, think about how to get a taste of Thanksgiving to them. If they are nearby, you can drop off a meal ahead of time. Just be sure to provide reheating or serving instructions so they can share the meal with you online.
If your virtual guests are farther afield, consider ordering the meal from a restaurant to be delivered to them Thanksgiving Day. Many restaurants are offering Thanksgiving takeout or delivery.
Connecting via recipe
To feel more connected, create a menu together with remote friends or family. Choose specific recipes so everyone can be eating the same Parmesan roasted Brussels sprouts and scalloped sweet potatoes.
Let everyone contribute a favorite recipe, perhaps. Then, when someone on the Zoom screen says, "Wow, this is the best green bean casserole ever," you can heartily agree from your side of the internet.
Sullivan's family is picking two recipes to make in tandem with her brother so she can feel like "you're eating the same stuffing I'm eating."
They are also both laying in a supply of the same prosecco to make it feel celebratory.
"Even though this is a very unusual time, it's still a time we'll remember, and we want it to be filled with positive thoughtful memories," Isom Johnson says.
Send out the same cocktail-making kit or cheese boxes for everybody in advance, she suggests. Or make matching cheese boards on Zoom. Very 2020.
Setting the stage
While many of us take care to set a nice table for the holiday, this might be the year to take it up a notch.
"There will be a lot more attention to detail with things like personalized name tags and fancy pieces of beautiful dinnerware and glasses, and all the bells and whistles of a very special, fancy dinner," Isom Johnson predicts.
For the tech-savvy, she also recommends creating a family holiday Zoom background for everyone. It could involve rotating or fixed images, perhaps of a childhood home, previous family gatherings, past vacations. Let the teens or millennials in your house take on this task. Another good task for the younger set: creating a shared playlist.
Post- or pre-meal games are a great way to connect. There are personalized, online bingo and card games for a crowd, for instance. And many board games work well over screens. You can have some lively Scattergories games if you send out the word lists ahead of time. A few rounds of virtual charades is an easy crowd-pleaser.
Expressing gratitude can lift your mood. A week or so before the holiday, ask everyone to write down one or more things they feel thankful for. Put them in a bowl or in an online chat, and during or after the meal take turns sharing your ideas.
And don't forget people in your community who may be hungry. Consider dropping off a pre-Thanksgiving nonperishable food item at the local pantry.