Last-minute ideas for throwing a great Zoom Thanksgiving

By Steven Melendez

November 25, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is making Thanksgiving a little different for many families.
The CDC has warned that “postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.” But staying home doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t share the holiday with family and friends.

Thanks to video chat technology, you can virtually share a meal (or watch the day’s televised football games and movies) from across town or across the country. Zoom has announced it’s lifting its usual 40-minute call limit on free accounts for the holiday, and other video chat tools, such as Google Hangouts and Apple FaceTime, can also work well for connecting for Thanksgiving.

The good thing about virtual Thanksgiving is that you can plan it super last-minute. But you do have a few decisions to make. You might want to preplan how and when you’re going to have your virtual guests connect. Decide whether you want to have relatives digitally join you for the meal or afterward. And if you want everyone to have the same cocktail for a Thanksgiving toast, you might want to send out a recipe and a list of ingredients for people to source as soon as you can.

There are a few technical considerations as well. Think about which equipment you’ll use (you might want to consider using a larger-screen computer or even connecting your device to a big-screen TV). Figure out where in the house you’ll put the necessary devices, and make sure you have a good way to plug them in so you don’t lose power during the festivities. Check that everything is close enough to your Wi-Fi router or hooked up to a wired Ethernet cable so you can get a good internet connection. You might even consider doing a dry run with less tech-savvy family members in advance to make sure your grandfather is familiar with the apps you’re going to be using, has them installed, and knows how to work the mute button.

Even if you’re pulling things together last minute, you can send out a quick invitation with instructions that you can email, text, or share on social media with the people you’re inviting. And maybe take the opportunity to lay out some ground rules: Zoom calls can get exhausting if they go on too long, so what’s your time frame? Do you need to disconnect at a certain time to put the kids to bed? And perhaps most importantly: Do you want to gently request that your digital companions not talk about the election?

And then, there’s the fun stuff. Think about any activities you want to enjoy with your family besides virtually breaking bread at the same time. There’s a ton of ways to have fun virtually with trivia, karaoke, and more experimental digital games that you can play via Zoom. Beyond simply going around the virtual room talking about what you’re thankful for, perhaps encourage everyone to share an image or two from their year in quarantine. You can even watch TV or movies while hanging out on video chat once the conversation inevitably dies down.

This Thanksgiving will go down in the history books for depressing reasons. But these last-minute ideas can help make your virtual celebration a memory that everyone can look back on fondly when you’re finally back together in person.