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Your Guide to Planning a Fun + Festive Virtual Thanksgiving Celebration

If you’re putting safety first right now, then you’ve probably opted to turn your usual holiday gathering into a virtual Thanksgiving celebration. (And before we go any further, on behalf of all of humanity, THANK YOU and cheers to you for making a responsible decision!) 

But no matter how good you’re feeling about making a smart choice, you may be feeling a little apprehensive if you’re the one in charge of planning your virtual Thanksgiving event. Virtual holidays are a new frontier for many of us, and figuring out how to maximize the warm & fuzzy feelings over a microphone and a screen is no small feat.

Fear not, virtual Thanksgiving planning committee! You can rest assured that your Turkey Day will be a smash hit with this guide to planning Virtual Thanksgiving 2020. This is your roadmap to avoiding the technological mishaps, awkward silences, and wine-fueled socially-distanced political debates that could plague your holiday this year without a bit of key preparations. 

Get ready to pull off a fun, engaging and memorable virtual Thanksgiving 2020 celebration, without the risk!

Invitations to Virtual Thanksgiving

virtual thanksgiving
Image: Greenvelope

Thanks to COVID, nearly everyone now knows how to use Zoom, Houseparty, Facetime, or another video chat platform. (But if some of the people on your guest list are technologically-challenged, fear not — we will address that potential hurdle below.)

As anyone with experience in event planning will tell you, it’s always wise to share the information for your event in several places (calendar invite, email, text message, etc.) in order to avoid the inevitable last-minute scramble of confused guests on the day of the celebration. It’s best not to wait until 5 minutes past your scheduled start time on Thanksgiving Day when you have 3 things burning on the stove and still haven’t showered to get bombarded with messages from 5 of your guests who can’t find the dial-in link to your Thanksgiving dinner. 

Your best bet? Send the first round of invitations at least a few days before the event and copy-paste the event dial-in information into the body of your email. (Invitations sent directly through Zoom have a tendency to end up in spam or a filtered inbox folder, where they can get lost, especially by infrequent Zoom users.) 

If you want to kick things up a notch, send out invitations to your virtual Thanksgiving 2020 using a platform like Evite or Paperless Post — just remember include your Zoom link in the event details. (However, be forewarned that these types of invitations are also prone to filters that channel them into the inbox abyss, so it’s safest to send the final event confirmation in a regular old email.)

Zoom has announced some great news for anyone doing a virtual Thanksgiving celebration this year. They are going to be lifting the 40-minute call time limit on free accounts worldwide from midnight ET on Nov. 26 through 6 a.m. ET on Nov. 27.  If you don’t have a paid Zoom account, this means that you won’t be forced to keep your virtual Thanksgiving celebration to 40 minutes or less, and/or you and your guests won’t have to get kicked off the Zoom call and dial back in every 40 minutes.

The Day-Of Arrivals

virtual thanksgiving

On the day before or morning of your virtual Thanksgiving celebration, send a quick email to all of your guests to confirm RSVPs, dial-in info, start time (and remember to include time zones!), and any other important details. Consider including a link to user-friendly Zoom dial-in instructions like these for the technologically-challenged. 

And on that note, if your virtual Thanksgiving will include some older or less-tech-savvy participants, it’s nice to take the time to give them a little extra guidance on how and when to dial in to the celebration. Fortunately, this is an easy job to delegate. You can place a friendly, patient and tech-savvy friend or family member in charge of getting Grandma to the virtual dinner so you have one less thing to worry about on the day of the event.

Care Packages

virtual thanksgiving
From left to right: Harry & David, Goldbelly, Knack, and BeWeeShop on Etsy

If you’re not able to celebrate IRL with some of your loved ones this year, it’s still important to find a way to make them feel special — especially those who are going to spend Thanksgiving Day alone. Putting together a care package is the perfect way to send some love to the people you won’t be able to see in person this Thanksgiving. 

If you’re not much of a DIYer, you can send a personalized Thanksgiving care package or gift basket from a website like Harry & David, Goldbelly, Knack, or Etsy to make the holiday special for someone you care about. Another option is to send Thanksgiving flowers, a house plant, or a seasonal wreath.

If you want to put together a homemade care package, there are lots of great ideas online. If you’re sending a virtual Thanksgiving care package to someone locally, then you have plenty of options. You can send someone an entire home cooked Thanksgiving dinner if you’re feeling up for it, or a wide variety of dishes. 

However, if you’re shipping your care package, you should obviously avoid foods that require refrigeration. Prepackaged and canned items ship well, as do most baked goods — but stick to individually-wrapped or single-portion baked goods like cookies, candy, or muffins if you want the best odds of your food still looking good after its shipping journey.

If you’re feeling like an overachiever (or if you have kids you’re looking to entertain), you can decorate your care package box to make it look even more festive. Consider rounding out your care package with other little gift items like succulents, stationary, local favorites, gift cards, or fall scented candles (just make sure that both the candle and any food you put in the box have airtight wrapping to ensure the smell of the candle doesn’t transfer into the food).

You can also include any items the recipient will need to participate in any activities you have planned for your virtual Thanksgiving celebration (more on this below).

Meet + Greet

virtual thanksgiving

If your virtual Thanksgiving is going to include some people that haven’t met each other before, consider starting your virtual Thanksgiving by inviting each person to introduce themselves. Giving a prompt can take pressure off of anyone who may be shy with introductions. It also ensures that everyone gets a chance to participate in the conversation.

For example, you could begin your event by saying “We have some people here who haven’t met everyone before, so let’s take a minute to go around the room and share your name, where you’re dialing in from, and tell us your connection to the host or someone in the group.

If you want to break the ice, you could also add in an additional prompt just for fun, like their astrological sign, a fun fact about themselves, or their favorite Thanksgiving food.

Fun + Engaging Conversation-Starters

Making conversation with people from a variety of backgrounds can be challenging in general, but a virtual conversation adds a whole additional layer of potential awkwardness. If you’re feeling like the conversation could use a little boost, prepare for your virtual Thanksgiving by writing out a few questions to get people talking and telling stories. 

If your virtual Thanksgiving is mostly adults, you can ask any couples in the group to share the story of how they met. It is always a great way to generate some laughs and get people to open up and have a good time. 

A few other ideas for fun conversation prompts that bring out great stories include: “What was your first job?/What was the worst job you ever had?”, “What was the most trouble you ever got into in high school?” “What is your favorite item you bought this year?”, and “What is one of your favorite vacation spots or the best trip you’ve ever been on?” (You can find plenty of additional ideas by Google searching “icebreaker questions”.)

Thanksgiving Dinner

If you’re going to be stuck at home anyway, why not use this opportunity to make yourself your dream Thanksgiving dinner? Alternately, you could go in a different direction and stir up some excitement by trying out some non-traditional new recipes as part of your meal.

If you’re all about convenience, skip the cooking and find a place in your area that offers pickup or delivery on prepared Thanksgiving dinners. Some nationwide offerings include Boston Market, Cracker Barrel, and Fresh Direct.

Activities + Games

Jackbox Games

virtual Thanksgiving
Jackbox Games

For a gathering of family and friends who don’t take themselves too seriously, Jackbox Games is a fantastic option. It can be played virtually without any special equipment, and there’s no need for your players to download an app.

Players can go to jackbox.tv on their phone browser and enter the room code to virtually participate in games like Fibbage, Quiplash, Drawful, Guesspionage, and Trivia Murder Party. (Be forewarned that most of the games are PG-13 in nature, so they might not be appropriate for all guests.)

One person in your group will need to purchase Jackbox games in order for everyone to play. It’s compatible with Amazon Fire Stick or you can download Jackbox onto your laptop. Then, the owner of the Jackbox Games account will share their screen over Zoom so the whole group can play together. You can have a maximum of 8 players.


virtual Thanksgiving
From left to right: Scattergories (image: Entertainment Earth), Swellgarfo, Etsy seller @shophadleydesigns

You can play a likely non-authorized-but-fully-functional version of the game Scattergories virtually on Swellgarfo. This platform allows you to customize your categories, reroll for a different letter, and change the amount of time for each round if you so desire.

You can play by having one person share their screen. Everyone writes down their answers on a piece of paper. Then, after time is up, go through the list one by one and ask each person playing to share their answers and total up their score.

Your other option is to purchase Thanksgiving-themed Scattergories cards like these from Etsy (or create your own!), print, and include them in the care package you send out for use on Thanksgiving Day.

Etsy Games

virtual Thanksgiving
From left to right: Etsy sellers @enjoymyprintables, @craftychimpanzee, @happierhomestead

Speaking of Etsy, that’s a great place to find lots of awesome Thanksgiving games, available for both print and download. You can choose from games like Thanksgiving Emoji Pictionary, Thanksgiving-themed Bingo, or if you can’t decide, you can snatch up a whole bundle of Thanksgiving Games like this one from Etsy seller @HappierHomestead.


Zoom Breakout rooms

Zoom offers an awesome feature called breakout rooms that are great for team trivia games. While the obvious choice for a trivia theme is “Thanksgiving”, you can also choose from a variety of thematic topics (e.g., fall, 2020 headlines, or quotes/songs that include the words “thanks” “thank you” or “thankful”) OR you could make the trivia based on the people attending your celebration. 

Enlist one person to be the moderator — this person will be the one sharing their screen, giving directions and reading the questions (unless you put the questions in writing). Then, enlist someone else to be the scorekeeper and tally up correct answers after each round.

Scavenger Hunt

Come up with a list of items that people may have in their home. The game leader reads each item on the list one at a time (“a pink shoe”, “a cd released in the 90s”, “a cell phone from 2010 or earlier”, a wearable item that says the word “turkey” on it, address labels from a charity organization), and every participant must scramble to be the first person to retrieve that item and bring it back to the screen to show everyone.

The first person or team to make it back with the correct item for each round wins! If all of your Zoom participants are in couples, you can also have the couples compete against each other for a little extra excitement.

Craft Projects

From left to right: iheartcraftythings.com, thediymommy.com, sparkandchemistry.com

Not surprisingly, there are tons of Thanksgiving craft projects that can add a little action to your virtual Thanksgiving celebration. Depending on the ages (and craft tolerance level) of your participants, you can do something like this Turkey Thanksgiving Craft, Thankful Trees, or Fall Leaf Mason Jars to add a little pizzazz to your virtual Thanksgiving celebration.

Giving Thanks

Most importantly, remember to set aside some time to give thanks at your virtual Thanksgiving celebration. This year has been almost universally difficult. Because of this, there has never been a more important time to focus on all of the things in our lives that we still have to be grateful for.

Go around the virtual room and invite each one of your guests to share the things they are most thankful for. This is not only a great way to facilitate positive conversation and build meaningful connections between your guests, but it’s also the thing that gets to the core of what Thanksgiving is all about.

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