Ways to Stay Connected During Virtual Holidays

In this most unusual holiday season, don't let distance come between you and your loved ones. Try these ideas for celebrating virtual holidays.

There’s no question the 2020 holiday season will look a lot different from years past. But even if most of us will be forgoing parties and family get-togethers, that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate together — from a distance. Check out these ideas for staying connected with virtual holidays.

Video Calls

Video chat platforms like Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime (only for Apple devices) and HouseParty allow for virtual group hugs — not as good as the real thing, we know, but “improvisation” is our word for 2020! And being able to talk, laugh and celebrate with loved ones, even on a screen, is all the more special this season.

To get everyone in the “room” at the same time on Thanksgiving, Christmas or during Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, create in advance a WhatsApp group for family and friends. Offer up a few choices of time slots, then have everyone agree on a time that works for all.

Choose a video chat platform that makes the most sense for your group.

  • Zoom is popular and easy, but the free version limits video calls to 40 minutes.
  • Skype allows up to 50 users to talk for hours, but quality goes down the more people who join in.
  • Google Hangouts is easy to use, but only allows 10 participants on a video call. The person hosting the call must have a Gmail account. Google Meet, the company’s video/chat program aimed at businesses, requires that everyone have a Google account.
  • FaceTime offers high-quality video calls, but only to Apple users.
  • HouseParty is a fun video chat app with optional games, but only accommodates eight users at a time.

Virtual Meal-Sharing

Kick your video chat or happy hour up a notch by turning it into a virtual meal — a great substitute for all those festive holiday dinners we’re missing out on this year.

Set a pretty dinner table — yes, even if you’re by yourself! — and make at least one or two of your favorite holiday dishes. Have everyone set up their phones or laptops so participants can see each other and their delicious meals. Go around the “table” and ask everyone to talk about what they’re eating, what they’re missing this holiday and what they’re thankful for.

If your group is so inclined, plan in advance for someone in the group to lead the blessing before the meal. If that’s always been your dad’s job, we bet he’ll cherish the role more than ever this year.

For older, high-risk friends and family members, leave a special holiday food gift at their door and greet them from a distance. Seeing your face and knowing you remembered them can go a long way toward keeping them connected.

Virtual Party Games

Who says you can’t play Pictionary long-distance? Try it with this random word generator. There are also online versions of classic games like Scrabble, Monopoly and Clue. The HouseParty app has built-in games like Heads Up!, Trivia and Quick Draw. Kids might be happy with a few rounds of Hangman — just make sure everyone has pencil and paper to play with.

Virtual Movies or TV

If your holiday tradition is gathering the family around the TV to watch a Christmas classic like It’s a Wonderful Life, there’s no reason to forgo it this year. Teleparty is a Netflix app which lets you schedule a movie or favorite program and invite others to join in a virtual watch party. They can even leave running commentary with the app’s chat feature.

If you don’t want to download the app, just schedule a video call and have everyone tune into the Thanksgiving Day football game or any mutually agreed-upon program. Then let the cheering and heckling commence!

Staying Safe in Person

If your circumstances — and state or local restrictions — allow for an in-person gathering, remember to play it safe. Social distancing rules will likely still be in place, and they’re there to protect everyone.

So if you get together with a small group of people who are already in your immediate social or family “pod,” have everyone wear masks until mealtime, and keep hand sanitizer readily available. Since it’s difficult to seat people far from one another at the dinner table, consider letting everyone spread out in chairs placed around the living room. Then prepare individual plates and serve everyone at their seat. Just don’t forget to offer seconds!