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How To Celebrate Thanksgiving Remotely


Thanksgiving is only days away, and for many of us, it's going to be smaller and quieter than we're used to. With cases of the coronavirus surging across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that people don't travel. And that in-person turkey dinner? That should be with people you've been living with for at least 14 days before the holiday. For some people, that's No one. But although we might not be able to see our loved ones in person, it doesn't mean we can't spend the holiday with them. J.D. Biersdorfer answers people's technology questions for The New York Times and has been thinking about alternatives to the traditional holiday gathering. Her latest piece is "How To Have A Fully Remote Family Thanksgiving." And J.D. Biersdorfer joins me now. Thanks for being with us.

J D BIERSDORFER: Thank you for having me.

FADEL: So let's start with one of the most important parts of the remote setup. You recommend people connecting via video platforms. I think a lot of people are familiar with Zoom, maybe a little too familiar. What are some other ways to connect, especially if you're sick of sitting in front of a computer all day?

BIERSDORFER: There are a number of video chat platforms - like, Facebook Messenger has a rooms feature. There's FaceTime, which is Apple's platform, if your whole family's in the Apple ecosystem, Google Duo. And then if the video thing is just not for everyone, you can still have a great family text chain where you're sending food photos or you just get the old-fashioned telephone service and do an audio call, maybe put it on speaker phone if you have a number of people in your House, and just call people that way.

FADEL: So, you know, cooking is such a big part of the day, cooking together, bonding over recipes. How do you recreate that experience remotely?

BIERSDORFER: You can also pull the video into the kitchen as well if your family is inclined to go with the more video stream route. And then if you've got the one person in the family who always has all the cookbooks with all the ancient family recipes that you always, always have for your holiday meal and you want to share that out, you can have that person who is the keeper of the cookbooks scan or take a photo of the recipes, send them out to everyone. Maybe you're in the kitchen, everyone's got their video call on and you're cooking together using the same reference material. Or even if you want to bring in a little business into it, you know, make it be a presentation on the screen.

FADEL: You know, also, Thanksgiving is about - a lot about food, a lot about cooking, but it's also about bonding time, people watching football, playing games. What are some fun things to play while you're hosting a remote gathering?

BIERSDORFER: Yeah. So if you're - dependent on how your family rolls, Trickster Cards is a site that lets you get on and you can have four people playing cards through a Web browser. And if you even want, you can have the video of the players there. If you are into the traditional after-dinner movie while you digest, there are a number of sync watch apps. I think Teleparty is a big one. It works with Netflix and Hulu and Disney+. But you can synchronize the movie, send everyone an invite so they're all there on the same screen. And then there's a little chat window where you can say the same snarky things about the movie that you would if you were sitting there watching it on the couch.

And for those who like football, because I believe Detroit and Dallas are doing their traditional games no matter what, Yahoo! Sports has a feature where you can use their Yahoo! Sports app to watch the games together, I think up to four people. But if you want to sit there and tease the fan of the other team, that's a way to kind of do that in sync if you don't feel like texting.

FADEL: When you were reporting this out and trying to give the best advice on how to do Thanksgiving remotely, what was the best nugget you came across?

BIERSDORFER: Well, I started from the point of all the things that I like to do just for my traditional family Thanksgivings and how those would translate to the digital world. And to your point earlier on, people were maybe getting a little Zoom fatigued. Being on screen the entire time might be a little bit too much. So maybe just do - if you are in the video mode, do that sporadically throughout the day. Just don't have a constant live stream. Less can be more here.

And also, give members of the family a time to shine. If you've got, say, a niece or a nephew who's taking music lessons, maybe have them give a little performance after dinner for everyone on the call. You know, grandma can see the dance or hear the guitar solo. And have people maybe share some life stories. Like, we probably have grandparents who remember what life was like before the polio vaccine, which we're kind of in the same point. And get those first-hand stories. Especially if you're into genealogy or capturing family history, this could be your perfect opportunity to get all of that firsthand memories right there when people are sort of focused on them.

FADEL: That's J.D. Biersdorfer. She's a technology columnist for The New York Times. Her latest article is "How To Have a Fully Remote Family Thanksgiving." Thank you so much.

BIERSDORFER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.