In that spirit, we asked Cox (who also polled her 4,300 Facebook friends) and others for ways to either tweak traditions this year or create new ones. In fact, you might find that this year's make-do becomes next year's tradition. Make sure to brainstorm ideas now, in case you need to share instructions or gifts by snail mail or take a technology tutorial.
1. Reimagine video chats
Video calls are less chaotic, with a focus and a shared activity, Cox says. For example, everyone can light a candle and say what makes them feel grateful. For New Year's Eve, Cox plans to mail party poppers to all her “guests.” Or you can host a scavenger hunt. Send out a list (a concert T-shirt, an outdated canned good, a 1982 penny), then award points when everyone shows off their finds on a video chat.
2. Learn a new game
Use preholiday time to get family and friends up to speed for games such as Quiplash that can be played over Zoom — participants use their phones as controllers. Or this might be the year to learn to play a video game online with an adult child or grandchild. Depending on your climate, you could invest in cornhole boards or other outdoor yard games.
3. Have a dance party
While group singing is difficult over Zoom because of digital delays, dancing is great, Cox says. “You can choreograph it if you're that kind of family that's into a certain kind of dancing — or just let people cut loose.”
4. Connect through food
Cox interviewed a family who bake together long-distance. At a synchronized time, everyone starts making Grandma Betty's apple pie. Grandma Betty then calls each household to check on progress. And you can still eat together. Cox's church does weekly “Zoom Soup,” an online dinner group.
5. Gift with purpose
Support your local stores or look for shops that benefit museums, houses of worship and other nonprofit organizations. Support a local restaurant by ordering a takeout holiday meal. Or don't shop and instead make a donation in someone's name, suggests Robert Alexander, associate pastor for discipleship and mission at the Davidson College Presbyterian Church in Davidson, North Carolina. “Practice alternative gift giving, rather than buying that sweater or book or whatever,” he says. “Really think about how to honor someone you really care about, or do it in memory of someone if you've lost someone dear to you.”
6. Bundle up
As the saying goes, there's no bad weather — only bad clothes. Churches, music groups, botanical gardens and others will hold outside events, and you can visit with neighbors on the stoop or porch. The key word is connection, says Karen Foster, senior minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada in Reno. “If that is gathering outside in cold weather around a firepit, bundled up for 20 or 30 minutes or whatever we can do, that is better than nothing,” she says.
7. Spread the joy
Want an anticipatory reminder to reach out to others? Create an Advent-style calendar with a charitable idea for the last two weeks of December, Foster suggests. Tasks could be as simple as a card or phone call or as complicated as organizing a volunteer event. “You know, it's a time for it not to be all about us,” she says. “But for it to be about the people who are having a harder time than we are, and seeing what we can do.”