Because of the relentless pandemic, many people are staying home for Thanksgiving this year. No technology can ever fully replace an in-person holiday gathering. But it is possible to recreate some family traditions online or even learn new skills — like roasting turkey.
Here are some ideas to digitize the Thanksgiving experience.
Pick Your Platform
After nine months of life in coronavirus times, most families have probably figured out a group videoconference option. If not, services like Google Meet in Gmail and Zoom, which start with an email invitation link and run in a browser, may be easier for the less technically inclined. (While free Zoom accounts typically have a 40-minute limit for group calls, the company recently announced it was lifting the time restriction globally from midnight Eastern time on Nov. 26 through 6 a.m. on Nov. 27.)
Apps are plentiful, like Google Duo, which works for group calls on web browsers and Android devices, as well as iPhones and iPads. For families firmly lodged in the Apple ecosystem, the Group feature of the FaceTime app for mobile devices and Mac computers also brings everyone together on the same screen. The Rooms feature of Facebook Messenger is another option for group video.
Devices like the Amazon Echo Show, GrandPad and ViewClix require a bit of configuration but can simplify video calls. Of course, if streaming sessions are not an option for everyone, a well-timed audio conference call and photos by text or email keeps everyone included.
Prepare the Meal
Many supermarkets have online ordering with delivery or curbside pickup for all your meal ingredients. If a whole bird is too much for your household’s dinner, Butterball, Jennie-O and other suppliers offer smaller turkey breasts and boneless roasts — and step-by-step videos that show first-timers how to prepare them. YouTube is also full of videos for creating regional variations, like smoked or Cajun-style turkey.
If you’re longing to mash yams and craft other favorite dishes while chatting with relatives, do a kitchen group call. Scan and share those treasured recipes via text or email ahead of time — or present them onscreen as everyone prepares his or her own version remotely (with the revamped Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on mute in the background).
Can’t cook? Consult your phone’s maps app for restaurants offering a meal for contactless delivery. Nationwide, Boston Market takes Thanksgiving meal orders online until 11:59 p.m. on Monday.
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Enjoy Family Time
Dining in a group video chat brings the family around the virtual table, but it may not be for everyone. Restarting the webcam for the pie-and-gossip dessert course is another approach — or waiting for the after-dinner chatter.
Holiday gatherings are often a time for photos and stories. If your video-chat platform has a screen-sharing feature, a slide show of digitized old pictures is one way to gather everyone. (Holding up those album pages to the camera is a low-tech workaround.)
Activities that specifically engage all members of the family can also create new memories via livestream, like cajoling the 10-year-old to play her piano recital piece, or getting Grandpa to talk about life before the polio vaccine. If everyone is reminiscing, take the opportunity to interview relatives for a family history project or share other genealogical material you’ve found online to keep the conversation going.
Relax After Dinner
While the serious family gamers have already fired up their consoles after dessert, those who prefer more old-fashioned entertainment like card games can find them online. Trickster Cards, for example, offers free hearts, euchre, bridge and other classics for multiple players on computer or mobile device. The Houseparty platform also hosts games, including Uno and Word Racers.
If a group movie is tradition, consider a “watch party” app or browser extension to sync up the video and add a chat function for everyone viewing together. (Most of these work on a computer browser and require participants to have accounts with the streaming service hosting the video.) The Teleparty extension for Chrome and Opera works with many videos on Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max and Hulu. The Disney+ service has its own GroupWatch feature, and Amazon Prime has Watch Party.
The Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys are still scheduled for their annual Turkey Day games, and you don’t have to watch alone. Up to four people at a time can stream the games on a phone or tablet through the Yahoo Sports app for Android and OS.
A digitally driven Thanksgiving is about making the best of a bad situation, but there are upsides beyond staying safer: No airport delays or highway traffic.