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A virtual holiday - but make it fun

Just because your Thanksgiving may be remote doesn't mean it can't be successful and enjoyable.

MINNEAPOLIS — We've been hearing a plea from state leaders, health officials, and frontline workers for weeks - stay home or scale down those big Thanksgiving Day gatherings as COVID-19 cases surge in Minnesota and across the country.

If your holiday looks a little different year, there's no reason a virtual celebration can't be successful and fun. A local event planner shared some ideas to pull off the holiday to make it feel as if everyone was still together.

Amy Zaroff has been in the hospitality business for more than 17 years. 

"What we've learned is it's the moments that matter," said Zaroff. "And so this Thanksgiving we have to learn to create those moments in different ways and still do so in a meaningful way."

Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday to celebrate. But this year, she's not inviting guests to her home and is implementing three tips she says are easy and inexpensive. 

First, acknowledge what you're missing but that you are still thankful for. Write it on a piece of paper and use a decorative ribbon to tie it to napkin rings.

Credit: Amy Zaroff

Second, surround your table with pictures of family members. It works at sporting events, why not a holiday?

And third, make a recipe someone is known for on zoom with your family.

"The most important thing to remember this holiday season is that it is the sentiment that matters the most," said Zaroff, whose other idea includes making a relative's favorite cocktail and hosting a mixology class followed by a toast.

If you're doing all that on Zoom, you'll be glad to know it is lifting its 40-minute time limit on Thursday and giving people as long as they need.

But if you're concerned about connectivity or it crashing, you could also try Google Meet, Skype, Apple FaceTime and Microsoft Teams. But Zaroff wants to remind people to simply pick up the phone and call or write someone a letter - anything to think twice about gathering and how staying at home can not only help save her hospitality business, but ultimately, more lives.

"Let's chalk up 2020 to being the one year you had to take a hard pause so that in 2021 and all the years after that we can gather together and celebrate like we were meant to," said Zaroff.

Zoom's Product Marketing Group Manager, Esther Yoon, also shared these gathering tips:

  • Send invitations with a set start and end time to guests via email or Zoom’s calendar integration—do not post your invite to social media where it can easily be seen by people you don’t intend to have at your gathering.
  • Make your guests feel special and give them a chance to do more socializing by keeping the invite list on the smaller side.
  • “Work the room” Zoom-style--ask direct questions to specific people and make sure everyone has a chance to participate. Use Zoom’s Gallery View setting to ensure you can see everyone at the party at once.
  • Make the most of Zoom features that allow you to personalize your meeting. Invite guests to bring their best Zoom virtual backgrounds for a specific destination or have a contest to guess the destination. You can also add stickers or color filters that are holiday-centered.