7 Virtual Thanksgiving Ideas When You Can’t Be With Family


This year, many of us are looking for new virtual Thanksgiving ideas while we can’t be with family and friends. For most of us, Thanksgiving will be…different this year. There’s probably a lot of other words that could be used to describe it, but let’s go with different. It may not be the same as sitting side by side family and friends, but these virtual Thanksgiving traditions can keep the festivities rolling. And who knows, maybe you’ll carry these new thanksgiving traditions into future Thanksgivings.

1. Mail Cookie Exchange

Usually done in person, but hey, unprecedented times means we have to improvise. The way it typically works is that you bake one type of cookie (but like, a lot of them). And then each person participating in the exchange takes home a half dozen of each type of cookie. You only have to bake one type of cookie which, let’s be honest, is way more efficient. And then you take home all kinds of different cookies – some of which you may have never tried before. Like these Lucky Charm Sugar Cookies.

A batch of cookies after coming out of the oven

So how exactly does it work virtually?

That’s all well and good, but how is this a virtual Thanksgiving idea when you can’t exchange in person? If you’ve never shipped cookies, you totally can! In fact, UPS has laid out some great tips for keeping them fresh. Send a half dozen to each participant and then arrange time to taste and have dessert together during Thanksgiving. Protip: if your group is competitive, vote on best cookie to see who gets the title each year.

2. Zoom Thanksgiving

A group Zoom call | virtual thanksgiving traditions

Or Facetime. Facebook Messenger. Skype. Whatever your preferred video conferencing tool (you likely have one by now). Set the time. Plan your menu. And then sit down and eat dinner together…with your computers. The one time screens are allowed at the dinner table, perhaps? While it may not be the same as being in person, it’s a nice second best option. Plus, it’s kind of interesting to see what everybody whips up when left to their own devices.

You can even “go around the table” and have everyone share a favorite memory or make a fun toast.

3. Have Your Kids Send Letters

It’s time to embrace the snail mail and make writing letters one of your new virtual Thanksgiving ideas. If writing a letter doesn’t sound particularly appealing to you, we were more specifically thinking of this one for the kids. If you’re trying to teach the little ones about Thanksgiving and what it means, this could be a really good interactive way to do it. Plus, we all secretly love getting mail when it isn’t, you know, junk.

Two young kids coloring together in a coloring book | virtual thanksgiving ideas

Have your kids write letters to family and friends saying what they are thankful for or why they are thankful for the particular person (you may need to help them with the writing aspect if they can’t yet hold a pen). When you’re running out of educational ideas, we’ll call this a win. Plus, even if they only scribble a few letters and draw something resembling a turkey, everyone will think it’s adorable.

4. Neighbors Thanksgiving

Food dishes for a group meal together

This is less of a virtual Thanksgiving idea and more about the inability to travel very far. Since your neighbors are likely who you see most these days, arrange a Thanksgiving brunch with a few of your close neighbors. Set up a table outside (outside is probably the way to go here), and have each house bring a dish or two. If you don’t get to know your neighbors very often, now is the perfect opportunity. And cuts down on how much you have to cook yourself.

5. Have each person in your virtual Thanksgiving contribute a recipe

This is one of our riskier virtual Thanksgiving ideas, but one that could be very fun. It largely depends on how much trust you put into the rest of your virtual Thanksgiving party-goers. The idea here being that each person contributes a recipe to the group and you then cook them all. So when you sit down to your virtual dinner, you are all eating the same dinner, which is pretty much the closest you can get to being together without actually being together. There are just a couple considerations here:

Image of bread dough being prepared
  • It works better if you have a smallish group. Otherwise you may be responsible for single handedly cooking 15 dishes.
  • You may have to end up cooking brussel sprouts even if you don’t like brussel sprouts. This is where the trust comes in.

6. Get festive by sharing your decor

Another one that uses the mail (or the drop off method if you live close-ish). Shop for some fun decorations and then ship it out to friends in family who will be joining the virtual party. This is another good one to get kids involved. Let them help pick out decorations and set up the scene on Thanksgiving morning. To make it even more festive, have everyone get dressed up – or for some of us, out of our sweatpants.

7. Game Night

Whether you all meet up for dinner or not, make game night one of your virtual Thanksgiving ideas. There are so many virtual games out there right now, that the fun doesn’t have to stop at lunch or dinner. Here are some options to get you started:

  • QuizUp – trivia is always a classic family holiday game
  • House Party – try the popular Ellen Degeneres Heads Up game
  • Pictionary – for fans of the popular game
  • All Bad Cards – A similar game to Cards Against Humanity, but through video
  • Psych! – a game where you have to lie. Intriguing.
  • Uno – I mean it’s just a classic. But a good idea to have a video call going on at the same time to add to the fun.

Make a day of it and use more than one of these virtual Thanksgiving ideas

While not completely the same as gathering together under the same roof, hopefully these virtual Thanksgiving ideas give you a chance to celebrate and spend time together….even if through a computer screen. And don’t forget, that just gives you more time for Black Friday shopping. And this year it can be from the comfort of your own couch with a cozy pair of jammies.

By the way, if you’re headed back to your virtual office the day after Thanksgiving:

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