How to Host Thanksgiving Outdoors or Virtually

Take your favorite feasting holiday outdoors—or virtual.

If you want to celebrate Thanksgiving a little differently than your traditional fancy place setting in your formal dining room, consider an outdoor Thanksgiving celebration. Or perhaps your family isn't able to gather together for the turkey-day holiday—why not host a virtual Thanksgiving so everyone can join from their respective homes? No matter which option you choose, there's plenty of fun to be had—and food to enjoy.

Hosting Thanksgiving Outside

The weather may be a factor in whether your Thanksgiving plans are successful. But unless the day is downright terrible, you might still be able to gather for a short time to enjoy a little turkey and stuffing with friends and family. (And if the weather is horrible, consider penciling in a rain date a day or two later so you can still enjoy your time together.)

Prepare the patio.

Dress your backyard for the season with hardy mums, ornamental kale, and plenty of pumpkins and gourds. Rather than one big, long table, consider splitting up seating into smaller parties by household. Invest in outdoor heaters and put out cozy throws to help keep the chill off. And consider a pop-up canopy so Thanksgiving can go on—rain or shine.

Get creative with the menu.

Give your oven the day off and find ways to cook outdoors—that'll also help warm up the backyard. You can fire up the grill for the turkey and sides, like sweet potatoes and corn. Slow cookers are great for several Thanksgiving sides, including potato gratin and corn spoon bread. To go with the more casual, outdoor vibe, serve up some great Thanksgiving salads (that you can make ahead and simply bring out on the big day). Whenever possible, offer individual portions, so no one's reaching into shared dishes.

Offer hot beverages.

A hot drink can help everyone stay warm. Use slow cookers or thermoses to serve cocoa, mulled cider or wine, and hot water for tea. (You can also put out rum or bourbon so guests can craft their own hot cocktails and extra add-ins like cinnamon sticks, marshmallows, and whipped cream to let guests get creative.)

Plan outdoor entertainment.

Lawn games like bocce ball, cornhole, croquet, and badminton typically spark fun, healthy competition—so go ahead and set up a family tournament. Plan a nature walk or outdoor scavenger hunt to help shake off the post-meal stupor. And if TV-watching is part of your Thanksgiving tradition, a video projector can help you watch football, home movies, or a Friends Thanksgiving marathon.

Spend time sharing gratitude.

There's always something to be grateful for. Have guests share the reasons they're thankful, or let everyone write down their reasons for being thankful. You can use a fabric marker and a plain cotton tablecloth to create a lasting reminder or a permanent marker and a pumpkin for a more temporary option.

Celebrating a Virtual Thanksgiving

If you can't travel to be with loved ones or the weather won't cooperate for an outdoor event, you can still gather together virtually. Here are some ways to make it feel like you're together during Thanksgiving, even if you're miles apart.

Coordinate menus.

Work with the hosts of each household to plan at least a few similar dishes on each family's menu, so you can all enjoy the same appetizers, your family's secret stuffing recipe, or a slice of apple pie for dessert. Try to coordinate the same dinnertime, so you can "sit down" to dinner together.

Create a decorating scheme.

Look for ways to make it feel like you're all in the same space. Order the same flowers from sites like The Bouqs Co. or UrbanStems so you can all enjoy the same centerpiece. If you truly want to get matchy-matchy, you can rent the same table settings from sites like Social Studies, which rent fun tablescapes (including napkins and centerpieces)—you simply return them the day after your party (so you'll have less clean-up, too).

Set a place for the computer.

If you want it to seem like you're all eating together, set a place for the computer, so you can all video chat during the meal.

Get creative with family traditions.

If your family's into board games, look for some online game options like Jackbox, Cards Against Humanity, or the various games on the app Houseparty. If you're more of a football or dog show family, gather each group around the TV and video chat or group text as you enjoy. Let each group create a slideshow or video presentation of the things they're thankful for this year and spend some time enjoying those for a Thanksgiving spin on the PowerPoint party.

Try a new party mode.

If you have video fatigue, head on over to High Fidelity. You won't be able to see your aunt's smile or let your nephew play show-and-tell with his favorite toys, but this audio-only party app more closely mimics the idea of a big get-together. You and your fellow partygoers are each a separate dot in a virtual environment. You can sneak off to a corner to gossip with your sister, and your kids can trade TikToks with their cousins—then everyone can gather together to reminisce about past Thanksgiving celebrations.

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