Yes, Virtual Holiday Gatherings *Can* Be Fun. Here’s How.

Think: festive dress codes, family recipe swaps, and more.

December  9, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

Jokes were cracked, garlic bread was burned (quite the tradition in our household), turkey was roasted and my grandma bossed my Mom around in the kitchen. In many ways, this Thanksgiving was a mirror image of years passed, with one exception—a big ol’ computer on the table where our loved ones should be. We made the best of it, but like many others, our family was acutely aware of everything we were missing.

With the holiday season looming, the word Zoom is sure to be top-of-mind for everybody that's considering how they’re going to host in what has been a most unexpected year. And while a virtual video platform is a great way to get in face-time with those you love and miss, there’s only so much “togetherness” that can be forged through a screen. Luckily, a video call is not your only option when it comes to maintaining meaningful connections this holiday season. From gift exchanges and matching outfits to easy eats and distanced hangouts, we’ve rounded up eight fun ways to unite with your friends and family these next few months—whether you’re five minutes down the road or five states away.

Organize a Mail Gift Exchange

Gift giving is obviously a hallmark of the holiday season and, if you’re forgoing a traditional hangout with your family this year, you may also be missing out on an opportunity to exchange gifts. Instead of skipping presents all together, why not organize a small gift exchange by mail for close family? Be sure to put some rules in place, like no shipping directly from the website—the goal here is to pack on the holiday cheer, and an impersonal Amazon box just isn’t going to cut it. Instead, have the gift sent to yourself first so you have the opportunity to wrap and package it up nicely before sending it along to your lucky recipient.

Attend a Virtual Class

Make the most of an empty Saturday afternoon or holiday break from school by signing your crew up for a private virtual class. Sites like EventBrite and CraftJam, as well as services local to your area, have pivoted to hosting virtual classes in light of the pandemic. Learn a new crafting skill like painting wood ornaments or wreath-making, or have a blast with a wacky-but-cool activity like making a comic book or creating a macrame Christmas tree. Whatever you choose, flexing your creative muscles in a fun (virtual) environment is a fresh way to bond with friends and family near and far.

Host a Holiday Recipe Swap

Many families have tried-and-true recipes they break out for the holidays each year, and it’s totally understandable if you miss Aunt Janice’s latkes almost as much as you miss Aunt Janice herself (we said almost!). Allow family members to dine on their faves no matter where they're celebrating from this year by spearheading a family recipe exchange of all your classic dishes. Set up an email chain where everyone can share their recipes, or schedule a video call where a “chef” of honor can walk through the how-to of their signature dish as everyone cooks along together. If your crew is up for it, you can even bind the recipes into a book to have as a keepsake from this weird, wacky year.

Create a Holiday Hashtag

Harness the power of social media with a clever holiday hashtag that allows your family or friends to keep tabs on each other’s celebratory plans. Something as simple as tagging each photo or Insta story with #CookFamilyChristmas or #TheKravitzVirtualHanukkah can go a long way in allowing loved ones to feel like they’re truly there celebrating alongside, instead of miles away. Plus, this is a great opportunity to teach your Mom how TikToK actually works. Actually, scratch that.

Hit Up a Drive-by Light Show

If you’re looking for a fun socially-distanced activity to do with nearby pals, check to see if there’s a drive-through light show in your area. Not only is a fun way to spend an evening (we don’t know anyone who isn’t instantly happier after looking at holiday lights), but it’s also easy to stay safe while feeling like you’re still “hanging out” with other people (everyone will be in their own cars, but you’ll be following each other parade-style, so waving, car-to-car charades and even FaceTime calls between vehicles are all fair game!). No light show nearby? No worries—map out a route through your town’s most festive neighborhoods and take in their yard displays instead, then meet up in a parking lot for a few socially-distanced sips of trunk-side hot chocolate afterwards.

Schedule 12 Days of Christmas Calls

The holiday season has always been a time where human connection is of the utmost importance, and in no year is that more necessary than in 2020. To ensure you set aside a few minutes to chat with those closest to you, consider starting “12 Days of Christmas Calls” with your friends or family members. You can talk on the phone or take time for a video call—either way, the end goal is the same: Savoring a few moments of a one-on-one virtual connection during this crazy holiday season is bound to boost your holiday mood—and theirs.

Coordinate a Festive Dress Code

If you do happen to have a virtual celebration scheduled, you can take the cheer up a notch by requesting loved ones to abide by a festive dress code. Whether it’s ugly sweaters for a Christmas Eve FaceTime call or glam metallics for a virtual New Years Eve, coordinating your attire with your friends and family can help you all feel like you’re a part of the same celebration, even if it's just through a computer screen.

Surprise With a Door Drop

Think of this as the fun, festive version of that “Ding, Dong, Ditch” game you used to play growing up. Make a secret holiday visit to the front lawn of friends and family that live nearby, leaving each a joyful surprise on the front porch or in their mailbox. The gift doesn’t have to be anything major—after all, nothing says “Merry Happy Everything” like a tin of homemade cookies or a bottle of their favorite wine.

How are you creating a feeling of togetherness this holiday season? Tell us in the comments.

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