In ordinary years, I spend Thanksgiving week with my family in Minneapolis quietly judging them for things I don’t like about myself. This year, Dr. Anthony Fauci has urged all of us to skip the travel and in-person holiday altogether to keep it from becoming a super-spreader event. I haven’t revered someone who exclusively delivers bad news this much since my last therapist quit on me. Fauci’s message may not be what any of us want to hear, but we can still revel in a subtext: Science is back.
Thanks to Zoom, Thanksgiving is back too. Just when I thought I had the perfect “Get Out of Holiday Free” card, I miscalculated my faux sadness and ended up with a “Virtual T’Gives” evite in my inbox. Previous evites that elicited the same groan were for a dog’s 11th birthday party and a gender-reveal laser light show. But we’re all just trying to make the best of our celebrations. Think of this as your guide to a successful Zoom Thanksgiving.
This has the potential to be the weirdest Thanksgiving ever since family of all stripes, random friends and people you met on the Nextdoor app will actually show up, and they’ll all be starved for human interaction. We’d never sit around the holiday table for eight hours straight in real life, so rather than staging one daylong video chat with the whole group, plan breakout rooms — smaller offshoot video chats — so you can have genuine conversations, and everyone gets the chance to tell off that special person in their life whose main news source is a YouTube channel with 117 subscribers.
If you’re one of those families that has an annual football game, keep the internecine sports rivalry going by discussing the problematic aspects of American football. Earn extra points for highlighting the parallels between the NFL’s and the Trump administration’s COVID protocols, which seem to value financial profit over people’s lives. There’s absolutely no chance the fight can get physical, so talk your talk!
Most Thanksgiving traditions are just distractions that keep us from eating before the already embarrassingly early afternoon dinner. My favorite tradition is watching “Home Alone” and reciting every line while my family pleads with me to be quiet. I feel closest to them when I’m getting under their skin. Adding a “watch party” to your remote Thanksgiving would give you time to discreetly partake in what our state considers recreation and our parents’ state considers “technically illegal but whatever.”
There’s still no way to avoid long, drawn-out family chatter, so contain the chaos by preparing conversation starters. Keep things light and positive with family memories or funny “would you rather” style questions, avoid politics and public health issues, and if all else fails, be prepared to discuss “The Bachelor” franchise. Whether you love it or hate it, it will bring your whole group together through schadenfreude.
If the conversation gets tense or uncomfortable, you can always “lose the internet” momentarily so you can secretly take another pull on your bottle before “signing” back in. And remember to double- and triple-check to make sure you’re sending a private rather than a public chat message when you’re gossiping about your “interesting cousin” who goes to those goth Disneyland meetups.
Even though it will be near impossible for the parental figures in the virtual room to enforce the “no phones at the table” rule, the yearly tradition of getting scolded or scolding someone else for their cellphone addiction will likely survive online. Too much side-texting can cause you to miss juicy hometown gossip, like which of your preschool classmates are now divorced, but it’s always OK to text your brother to tell him to “fix your face” while your mom is talking.
Since our Thanksgiving cooks will miss the heaps of praise they’re used to getting in person, remember to share exaggerated compliments and white lies like “Thanks for this holiday meal care package! Cooking it myself will be fun” or “Looks like the Keto diet is working!”
Actually eating Thanksgiving dinner while Zooming does not sound that enticing, but if you must, make sure to include a lesson on how to use the mute button after saying grace. Listening to remote chewing may be popular on TikTok, but for those outside the Gen Z crowd, it can create family divisions that no amount of therapy can solve.
There’s really no way to get virtual Thanksgiving wrong as long as you feel connected to the people you’re spending it with. Unless those “people” are a row of dolls you set up at the table to argue with. That will be me after my family reads this.
Jason Shapiro is a comedy writer and author of the satirical Los Feliz Daycare Twitter feed.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.