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5 Ways to Connect Virtually with Friends and Family This Holiday Season

Cooking lessons, movie nights and even crafting can be done through video

spinner image A family on a video chat via a laptop
Members of Glad Loreen’s family in three households, 3,000 miles apart baked banana bread together via Zoom, including Ryan McDonnell and Sarah Dobens, with their two children.
Courtesy Glad Loreen

En español | Even if COVID-19 restrictions mean you're not gathering with family and friends to mark the holidays this year, you don't have to put celebrating the season on the back burner

Virtual celebrations can help create special memories from afar, especially with some thought and proper planning.

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"Right now is such a hard and sad time for so many people,” says Miraya Berke, head of marketing at event hosting platform Mixily. “Having happy moments for us to look forward to is really helpful.”

Experts suggest having a plan and preparing for the day like you would for an in-person event. Families should send invitations, and do advance testing on technology equipment and links for video platforms, Berke says. To amp up the celebratory atmosphere, have everyone dress for the occasion, and don't forget to check your lighting.

Digital events creator Paury Flowers says in her work the most significant hurdle is that people often get frustrated and give up. “The biggest challenge really is patience,” she says. “That is the thing that people struggle with the most."

But keeping up traditions — and creating new ones — is important, says Erica Keswin, author of Rituals Roadmap. The traditions we have with family and friends are powerful ways to keep us connected, even if they happen virtually.

"What rituals do, is they bring us together to give us that sense of belonging,” she says. “In many ways there are very small things we can do that can have a big impact.”

With COVID-19 cases on the rise and as public health experts ask people to be even more stringent about social distancing this holiday, Keswin is encouraging a greater effort to connect virtually with loved ones. Families can even use this time to create new traditions.

Here are five virtual celebration ideas to try this holiday season.

1. Do some cooking together

Celebrating apart isn't a new concept for Glad Loreen, 70, from Redmond, Washington. Her children are married with kids of their own, so they've learned to balance the holidays and visiting time with in-laws. Normally, they would connect by video and just talk, but this year the family has added a twist.

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They joined Raddish Kids, a meal kit delivery service for children, and had their grandkids lead a cooking lesson over video. The family did it for the first time around Halloween. “It was a big hit,” Loreen says. “The basic thing that's so cool is the kids get some skill building, but then it's so much deeper than that with it being a shared experience.”

The family is planning to do the kids cooking lesson again for additional holiday celebrations. Families can recreate similar activities over video chat or hire a professional to lead cooking demonstrations around a specific meal or drink-making class.

2. Schedule a virtual movie night

Who doesn't love a good movie night? With some coordination and planning there are tons of ways for families who are separated this year to enjoy a movie together. Connecting through Teleparty, previously known as Netflix Party, is one option that allows viewers to watch a movie in sync and chat with one another in the same window.

Berke also suggests setting a time for everyone to watch a movie first and then connecting by video chat afterward to discuss thoughts on the film.

3. Try crafting activities

Hands-on activities are another way for the whole family to bond. Trixi Symonds, 61, from Sydney, Australia, is the founder of Sew a Softie, a project encouraging families to sew with their children.

"It's something that's accessible to everybody,” Symonds says. She has taught kids as young as 3 how to sew. Her website has ideas for simple projects along with detailed instructions on the materials families will need.

Families might sew or decorate Christmas stockings together on video chat, for example.

4. Game night can be for everyone

Another go-to option is to host a game night. This can be done in a variety of ways, says Flowers. Families can organize traditional games like a scavenger hunt or bingo over video chat, or sign up for services where games are incorporated, such as the Houseparty app (a group video chat service with built-in games), Kahoot! (an educational app that can host games of up to 10 people, such as trivia games) and Drawasaurus (similar to Pictionary — one player draws a picture while the others post their guesses in the chat window).

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There are a wide range of possibilities, so explore and discuss what your family would enjoy most.

5. Share family memories

Simple gatherings where family members can reflect and speak from the heart may be the most powerful and meaningful. Michael Kipness, 63, from Las Vegas, says his family incorporates a memories theme in holiday celebrations and he plans to continue that tradition this year, but virtually.

"There's history that defines who we are,” Kipness says. He suggests sharing favorite memories, reminiscing over past holidays, remembering family members who have died and even discussing everyone's different experience with COVID-19 and the pandemic.

Kipness invested in a 27-inch monitor to get a better view of his family and grandkids (ages 2, 5 and 7) when they connect on video. He appreciates these moments and is looking forward to virtually sharing the holidays with them this year.

"One of the most important things for me is to instill in my kids and my grandkids my heritage,” he says. “What I've done in my life, and break it down so they can understand. … I also want to know what's going on in their lives.”

How to Host a Virtual Holiday Party

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