Everyone’s favorite feasting holiday may look a little different this year.

By Lisa Milbrand
Updated November 09, 2020
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The good news: Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie haven’t been canceled. The bad news? You may not be squeezing yourself around a table with 10 of your nieces and nephews to celebrate Thanksgiving 2020. Because coronavirus still makes indoor celebrations a little dicey—and the new CDC Thanksgiving guidelines recommend celebrating indoors only with friends and family who live in your household—you have two safe options for planning your Thanksgiving celebration: an outdoor feast or a virtual one.

No matter which way you go, there’s plenty of fun to be had—here’s how.

How to host Thanksgiving outdoors during coronavirus

Weather may be a factor in whether your Thanksgiving plans are a go this year. But unless the day is absolutely terrible, you might still be able to gather for a short time to enjoy a little turkey and stuffing with your friends and family. (And if the weather is terrible, consider penciling in a rain date a day or two later so you can still enjoy your time together.) Just note: In its guidelines on holiday celebrations during the coronavirus pandemic, the CDC labels a small outdoor dinner with friends or family who live close by as a moderate-risk activity, so plan carefully to limit risk for everyone involved. Travel is also a high-risk activity, so holiday travel may not be the best idea—with that in mind, know that your Thanksgiving gathering (even if it is outdoors) will be smaller than usual.

Dress your backyard for the season with hardy mums, ornamental kale, and plenty of pumpkins and gourds. Rather than one big, long table, break up seating into smaller parties by household, to make mealtime safer. 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. (Just make sure there’s still plenty of air flow!)

RELATED: Get Your Backyard Ready for Fall Entertaining

Give your oven the day off and find ways to keep your cooking outdoors, too. (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 a number of Thanksgiving sides, including potato gratin and corn spoon bread. And to go with the more casual, outdoor vibe, serve up some great Thanksgiving salads that you can make ahead and simply put out on the big day. Whenever possible, aim to offer individual portions, so no one’s reaching into shared dishes.

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.)

Lawn games like bocce ball, cornhole, croquet, and badminton can be played while maintaining social distancing—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.

It’s been a tough year for everyone, but there’s always something to be grateful for. Have guests share the reasons they’re thankful out loud, or let everyone write down their reasons to be thankful this year. You can use a fabric marker and a plain cotton tablecloth to create a lasting reminder, or a Sharpie and a pumpkin for a more temporary option.

How to host a virtual Thanksgiving

If you can’t travel to be with loved ones, you’re sticking to low-risk activities as outlined by the CDC, 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 this Thanksgiving, even if you’re miles apart.

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.

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 really want to get matchy-matchy, you can rent the same table settings from sites like Social Studies, which rent out fun tablescapes (including napkins and centerpieces)—you simply return them the day after your party (so you’ll have less clean-up, too).

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

If your family’s into board games, look for some of the 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.

If you have Zoom 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 party goers 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 Thanksgivings past.