How to have a holiday get-together when you can’t get together

A young couple standing in a kitchen video chats with family members on an iPad.

Thanksgiving and other holidays will look very different for many people this year as they forgo their traditional family gatherings and activities, choosing instead to stay home and stay safe.

But that doesn’t mean you have to forgo the thoughtful gestures, friendly interactions or sharing of memories that typically accompany family gatherings.

We’ve come up with some suggestions for capturing the spirit of the holidays even though everything is turned upside down. Read on and find one that works for you!

Put it right on the table

Make a centerpiece for grandpa, grandma and other relatives and mail it to them for their holiday tables. You can enlist your kids, or, because everyone has a creative side, grab the scissors and glue and dive in with them.

One idea is to put together a collage of photos of past family gatherings and attach them to a big cardboard leaf, the tail of a turkey or some other appropriate holiday shape.

Try not to be a perfectionist, it’s the thought that counts. And if the idea of craft projects gives you hives, consider sending flowers instead!

A close up of a bouquet of flowers from a professional florist. A white peony is in the center surrounded by smaller pink, purple, and white flowers and some foliage.

Send a letter or a story

Actual physical letters you can hold in your hand beat an email every time. Instead of spending time cleaning and prepping ahead of the holiday, sit down and write some notes to the people you will miss.

Write about a great holiday memory, like the pumpkin pie getting dropped on the floor or the dog making a meal of the turkey when no one was looking.

Relive your favorite annual dinner with a story starting from when the turkey starts defrosting to the last dish getting washed to inevitable food coma to follow.

Or simply tell them how grateful you are and what you miss about their smiling faces.

Synchronize the feasts

Computers and smartphones are going to be busy Thanksgiving Day with video calls on every platform available. If it’s your first foray into virtual gatherings, you might want to do a test run as not everyone is tech savvy. (Especially Aunt Marie.) Maybe you’ll have it down pat by New Year’s.

Here are a few ideas for a virtual celebration:

  • Sit down for your meals at the same time and have cameras set up so you’re all digitally connected.
  • Pick a prayer or blessing and say it all together.
  • Break the wishbone together.
  • Go around the tables and have everyone say what they’re thankful for. (Like elastic waistbands!)
  • Fill up that glass and have a toast together.
  • Have everyone tell a corny holiday joke. (Why did the turkey play the drums in the band? Because he already had drum sticks).

Send a care package

Buy some fancy hot chocolate, coffee or other treats and put together a care package to send to family members. A framed family photo would be another sweet item to add.

Trying to recreate the teary-eyed laughter you have with your cousins? Fill it with holiday gag gifts that are easily found in stores or online. (We saw a hilarious turkey leg hat, which looked destined to become a family heirloom.)

Bottles of G&H Nourish body wash and body lotion lie on wrapping paper and colored string for a gift package.

Make a holiday mask

Face coverings are a necessity in most places so why not make them fun? Let creativity rule and have a contest for the best holiday mask.

Grab one of your washable or disposable masks and get out the craft supplies. Everyone can show them off in the video call and you can argue about whose is best. (A mask decorating kit would also be a good thing to send in those care packages!)

Get active

Turkey Trot road races are annual traditions in many communities, raising money for local organizations. Many are shifting virtual this year, so you have no excuse not to participate. Encourage all your family members near and far to sign up with you. Whether you walk it or run it, you can celebrate and compare times virtually later.

Or just have all your family go for a simple walk without worrying about the time and spread some good cheer along the way. Before the walk, encourage everyone to find small rocks where they live and paint words on them like “thanks,” “gratitude,” “kindness.”

While walking, spread them out for others to find. This is guaranteed to warm the hearts of those who see them and a great activity for kids.

Have a watch party

Is there a favorite holiday movie that gets watched every year? Pick a time and have a watch party so everyone is viewing it simultaneously. Start sharing jokes in the family group chat and it will seem like old times—the only thing missing will be your uncle’s snoring.

A woman with two small children sit at a table and have a video call with family members.

Pick up the phone

If it’s those one-on-one conversations with your favorite brother-in-law that you will miss most over the holiday, make a plan for a nice chat on the phone—video or otherwise—without interruption.

You can each grab your favorite hot toddy and a piece of pie and catch up just as you do every year, it will just look a little different.

Good and grateful

2020 will be the year that gratefulness takes on new meaning as people realize they can experience the love of family and friends even though they can’t be together in person.

Who knows? Maybe some of these new activities will become their own time-honored traditions. At the very least, it will be one of the most memorable holidays yet.

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