December 7, 2021

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4 ways to make a Thanksgiving Zoom gathering memorable

Thanksgiving through a computer screen isn’t anyone’s first option, but it’s what experts are begging Americans to do on Thursday.

Family traditions don’t have to be abandoned, but rather augmented and adjusted to fit in with the current climate to keep everyone healthy and COVID-free as the pandemic crisis continues.

“This is a very challenging time we’re going through and that’s something that we all need to accept and understand that no one is going through this alone,” Dr. Shikha Jain, chief operating officer of Impact, an advocacy coalition of Illinois-based healthcare workers, said. “There are a lot of people who are feeling the same way.”

Happy multi-generation family sitting at the dining table on Thanksgiving and communicating through a digital tablet
The beauty of virtually connecting is that meaningful interactions can be felt with several different groups of loved ones, whereas a traditional in-person Thanksgiving meant being relegated to one or two celebrations. (Photo: Getty Creative)

As you’re preparing to scale-down for your favorite recipes and set fewer place settings for a smaller gathering, Dr. Jain said components of planning a virtual Thanksgiving still take planning but “probably in a little bit different way than in the past.”

The beauty of virtually connecting is that meaningful interactions can be felt with several different groups of loved ones, whereas a traditional in-person Thanksgiving meant being relegated to one or two celebrations. Here are some tips to make the most of your virtual Thanksgiving.

Check in with yourself

Christopher Hughey poses for a picture with his sons, Henry, 5, Harrison, 9, on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Christopher Hughey poses for a picture with his sons, Henry, 5, Harrison, 9, on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

The holidays are already stressful and the COVID-19 crisis adds to the anxiety.

“The first thing we wanted to make sure everybody remembered was to self-reflect and understand that this is not going to be your normal holiday gathering,” Dr. Jain said.

Feelings of grief, sadness, and loss of joy are natural and normal, and she expressed that people should sit with their feelings and acknowledge them rather than suppressing them.

Prepare for the holiday

People shop ahead of Thanksgiving at Costco Wholesale in East Harlem on November 24, 2020, in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
People shop ahead of Thanksgiving at Costco Wholesale in East Harlem on November 24, 2020, in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

A few days before Thanksgiving, coordinate with your family or friends to make concrete plans to show off your turkeys or play after-dinner games.

Decide on your preferred virtual platform like Zoom, FaceTime, or Skype, send invitations, and solidify a timeframe with a clear beginning and end with a “run of show,” Josh Wood and Mimi Eayrs, cofounders of JWP, an event production agency, suggested. Wood added that it’s a good idea to have a tech-pro on standby to troubleshoot for relatives having connectivity issues.

By making it clear that it’s not a “four-hour rambling conversation,” a closed-ended conversation— Eayrs suggested an hour— can help eliminate any awkwardness or prevent older generations who aren’t tech-savvy from becoming fatigued.

Eayrs said that “sometimes more is not more,” when it comes to gathering virtually because with too many virtual attendees “you end up not connecting at all.” To that end, try to schedule a more intimate and smaller virtual meet-and-greets throughout the day, so there’s always something to look forward to and an opportunity to truly connect with others.

Connect virtually

Play to sight and sound by decorating your home or setting a festive dress code or coordinating a family singalong. (Photo: Getty)
Play to sight and sound by decorating your home or setting a festive dress code or coordinating a family singalong. (Photo: Getty)

Since certain senses like taste, smell, and touch will be impossible to convey over a computer or phone, Eayrs insisted that it’s the “small details that will go a really long way.” Play to sight and sound by decorating your home, setting a festive dress code, or coordinating a family singalong.

“Wherever possible, consider topics of conversation and organizational strategies (hand-raising, host control of participant volume, etc.) to ensure even shy relatives have the opportunity to catch up with everyone,” Wood said.

You might catch some ribbing from opinionated family members for over-planning, but “in the end, they’ll thank you,” Wood said.

Preserve traditions

Volunteers peel potatoes and prepare other Thanksgiving food for seniors in Hawthorne, N.J., on Nov. 3, 2020. With a fall surge of coronavirus infections gripping the U.S., many Americans are forgoing tradition and getting creative with celebrations. (AP Photo/Kathy Young)
Volunteers peel potatoes and prepare other Thanksgiving food for seniors in Hawthorne, N.J., on Nov. 3, 2020. With a fall surge of coronavirus infections gripping the U.S., many Americans are forgoing tradition and getting creative with celebrations. (AP Photo/Kathy Young)

Much of Thanksgiving is steeped in tradition — like watching the parade, volunteering, participating in a turkey trot, or honoring the memory of a family member by making their signature dish.

“It’s going to feel different than it was last year, but you can find new ways to incorporate your old traditions into this kind of new normal that we currently have to live in,” Dr. Jain said.

Many traditions can be translated into a virtual setting. Ahead of the holiday, circulate identical recipes among those you typically celebrate with to feel like you’re sharing one menu, even when separated by distance; fire up your Zoom connection for everyone — far and wide — to share what they are thankful for; or email song lyrics so everyone can participate in a singalong.

“Be sure to ask Aunt Mabel for her famous pumpkin pie recipe ASAP,” Wood said. “The only downside there, and it’s a big one, is that you’ll have to bake it yourself.”

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Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. She can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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