Celebrating Thanksgiving Online: 10 Ways to Make Your Virtual Family Gathering Fun
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and many families are planning a virtual get-together this year. Online celebrations give you the opportunity to see family members near and far—including those who wouldn’t be able to attend your holiday gathering in person. But what do you do once everybody’s on the call?
When you’ve gotten past “Hello,” and “My, how you’ve grown,” and “How’s the weather where you are?”...then what?
Here are 10 ideas for your virtual family Thanksgiving. These activities will keep conversation flowing, and help your holiday feel more like an intimate family gathering and less like a meeting.
- Assign someone (maybe yourself, maybe someone who likes to lead or present) as the emcee or host. This person will introduce the activities and keep things moving along.
- Some of the activities require advance planning. Be sure to give your guests plenty of notice and let them know if there’s something they need to prepare ahead of time.
- Limit your virtual party to about 2 hours with the full family group. Just choose a few of these activities. Some of them can be done in separate, smaller Zoom calls.
- Don’t schedule every minute. Allow time for natural conversations to occur. If the talking starts to slow down or veer into unwanted territory, that’s the time to introduce an activity.
- Want to make it simple? Download our Thanksgiving Party Plan [Coming Soon] for an easy-to-follow script and schedule, with supply lists and printables for all the activities.
Family Recipe Swap & Cooking Class
Note: Requires advance preparation.
Sad that you’re going to miss Grandma’s pumpkin pie, or another special family recipe this year? Ask family members who always make a signature dish to share their recipes in advance. Give a deadline of about a week before Thanksgiving, so everyone has time to buy the ingredients and prepare them for their own households.
During your get-together, have everyone show their versions of Grandma’s pumpkin pie. How alike or different did they turn out? Then enjoy them together.
Bonus: Have Grandma lead a virtual cooking class, and make her special pie together—online. She’ll share her secrets and tips, and you’ll all enjoy some fun family time together.
Play Thanks & Compliments Tag
This is a nice way to show gratitude and give everyone something to smile about. Near the beginning of your get-together, explain the rules for this online game of tag.
Choose someone to be “it.” S/he types a compliment about one other person in the chat window. That person becomes the new "it," and sends a compliment to someone else. Play continues until everyone has been “it.” (The last person gives a compliment to the first “it.”)
If you want to play another round, change from compliments to thanking someone for something nice they’ve done.
Swap Secret Pilgrim Gifts
Note: Requires advance preparation.
In this Virtual Thanksgiving version of Secret Santa, each household sends an anonymous gift to another household. Be sure to give plenty of time for secret Pilgrim gifts to be delivered!
Set a price limit and use the Secret Santa Generator or Elfster Secret Santa Name Generator to choose names randomly. Each household sends a gift to the recipient they’re assigned.
During your virtual party, the gifts are opened one-by-one. First, the host announces which family they sent a gift to. As the recipients open the gift and show it on the camera for everyone to see, the givers tell everyone why they’re thankful for the recipients.
Then the receiving family announces which household they sent a gift to, explain what they appreciate about them, and so on. Play until every household has opened their gift.
Thanksgiving Conversation Cards
Avoid awkward lulls in the conversation with some talking prompts. Have each household print & cut out these Thanksgiving Conversation Cards and place the cards in a bowl or bag.
Your party host chooses someone to play first. S/he draws a card, answers the question on it, and places it back in the bowl. That person chooses someone to go next. Play until everyone has answered at least one.
You may just learn something new about the people you know the best.
Thanksgiving Scavenger Hunt
Make a list of Thanksgiving-related items or activities that can be found around the house, or download our Thanksgiving Scavenger Hunt Printable. [Coming Soon]
The host calls out the first thing on the list, and everyone else runs to get it. The first person to return to the camera with the item gets a point. When everyone has returned, call out the next item on the list. Continue through the entire list. The person with the most points can be declared the winner.
Play Thanksgiving Pictionary
This classic guessing game is fun to play virtually. It’s easy on Zoom. Use a Random Word Generator to create drawing prompts. (This one lets you choose Holidays: Thanksgiving for party-appropriate words.)
In Zoom, the person drawing should share their screen and select the whiteboard feature, which allows you to draw using the mouse. Set a timer for 60 seconds, draw your word, and see if the other teams can guess.
Note: Requires advance preparation.
You may not be gathered around the same table, but you can make your tables look similar by creating centerpieces from the same materials.
Each household should gather or order the items listed below, so that everyone has the same things.
During your gathering, set a timer for 10 minutes, and instruct each group to design and create a holiday centerpiece, using only those materials.
Compare everyone’s final masterpiece and appreciate how creativity abounds in your family! If your people are competitive, you can have everyone vote and declare a winner.
Gather or Buy:
Gourd & Leaf Assortment* Raffia*
Take a Family Photo...
...Brady Bunch style! With your meeting in gallery view, call out different poses to assume and take screen shots of everyone.
Try these, to get some silly pictures: Say Cheese... Act like a Turkey… Pretend you’re looking at someone else in the Zoom window—look up, down, or to the side… You ate too much--show me your tryptophan food coma look!
Give Thanks Together
You may not be around the same table, but you can count your blessings and kick off your Thanksgiving dinner together.
Simulate a Circle of Thanks by reaching toward the camera as if you're joining hands. Or, raise your glass to the camera and toast all that you're thankful for.
Go Black Friday Shopping Together—Online
Spend the day after Thanksgiving shopping together, without the crowds! Just log on to a Zoom meeting, visit your favorite store’s website, and discuss what you see. You can share your screen to look at the same items together, or shop independently and tell everyone what you’ve found (and the great deals you’re getting).
I hope these activities help your family enjoy Thanksgiving, and feel connected despite the fact that you can't be together in person.
What do you think?
Which activities will your family enjoy? I'd love to hear how your Virtual Thanksgiving Party goes. What works? What doesn't? Did your family do anything not on this list? Let me know in the comments, below.
Happy Thanksgiving! Have a wonderful (and safe) virtual holiday with your family and friends, near and far.
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