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Virtual Thanksgiving: Create Your Best with these 6 Tips

Are you planning a virtual Thanksgiving this year? You aren’t alone. A recent national poll released Oct. 26 by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) found that many Americans are turning to Zoom and other video conferencing platforms for their celebrations.

Virtual Thanksgiving: Create Your Best with these 6 Tips

The poll was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 2,714 U.S. adults between October 16–20, 2020. Among Americans who have already settled on their holiday plans, 24 percent say they will be using an online platform such as Zoom, Facetime, or Google Hangouts as part of their Thanksgiving celebration. Among families with children under 18, 41 percent say they will be using a virtual meeting platform for their gathering.

Participating in a virtual Thanksgiving is not ideal, but “As we all try to stay safe and healthy,” says Theresa H. Rodgers, MA, CCC-SLP, 2020 ASHA President, “we can use available technology in ways that enhance communication and connection.” The ASHA offers these 5 tips for a successful virtual Thanksgiving:

1. Set expectations for participants in the virtual Thanksgiving

Virtual meetings can be tiring, especially for young children. If everyone is on the same page, it can help reduce stress and conflict—allowing everyone to enjoy each other’s company. So, in advance, agree to certain parameters in advance, such as what time you’ll start and how long you’ll stay online together.

2. Plan conversation starters or games to keep everyone involved

Designate one person to come prepared with Thanksgiving-themed conversation starters (Family Dinner Project has some great suggestions). Other ideas include a word game such as Our Moments or Mad Libs, a virtual scavenger hunt (e.g., find your favorite family photo and bring it to the table), or a family trivia game (people can use the “raise hand” or “like” features within virtual platforms to answer questions).

3. Keep important traditions alive

Just because you are having a virtual Thanksgiving instead of gathering around a table in the same room doesn’t mean that your family traditions need to be set aside. You may need to tweak special customs for the virtual setting, but you can still honor them.

Get creative! For example, rather than going around the table and asking what each person is thankful for, collect responses ahead of time in a gratefulness jar to read out loud. Or do a thankful show and tell (e.g., bring an item that represents what you’re thankful for this year). This may help move the tradition along faster and allow for additional creativity.

A tradition I grew up with was watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on TV. If there is a favorite movie your family enjoys for Thanksgiving, perhaps you could host a watch party.

4. Accommodate family members with different communication needs

Many older adults are hard of hearing—consider modifications to help them stay engaged and hear better. For example, turning on closed captioning, seating a person closest to the computer or speakers, and projecting your meeting on a larger screen to allow better access to visual cues (such as seeing the facial expressions of those talking) can all make a world of difference. Keep in mind that online meetings may be tedious, overstimulating, or otherwise challenging for children with autism, ADHD, or a speech or language disorder.

5. Communicate respectfully

Give everyone a chance to speak, try not to talk over others, and limit side conversations during your gathering. This may be more difficult with everyone in different locations but doing your best to do so will make the experience better for everyone.

And I have one more idea:

6. Bring your virtual Thanksgiving into the real world

Perhaps one of the things your family looks forward to for Thanksgiving is Grandma’s special pumpkin pie or Aunt Tillie’s lemon cookies. Why not package the non-perishable ingredients into a box and ship them off with the recipe ahead of time? That makes a nice, warm heartfelt gift and can bring the family together as they chat about how well they did with the recipe!

If that won’t work, create a Thanksgiving menu, complete with family recipes, and send it out to folks. Then they can decide which recipes they want to make or not. This can be something as simple as a printout from your computer, or something more elaborately pulled together using a local printer or FedEx color printer. You can even get more creative and send the menu out with some Thanksgiving-themed decorations such as napkins, placemats, and a fold-out centerpiece, all of which you can probably find in your neighborhood dollar store.

Another idea is the record your virtual Thanksgiving, save it to a thumb drive and send it out with a heartfelt note.

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About the author

Carma Spence has been experimenting in the kitchen since she was four years old and loves trying out new recipe ideas. She is the author of Bonkers for Bundt Cakes and Your Perfect Pie, as well as author and contributor to several more non-food-related books. With Carma's Cookery, she is taking her passion for empowering people and blending it with her passion for cooking, gift-giving and entertaining.

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