Virtual Activities to Foster a Sense of Holiday Fun

family holidays

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Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had to celebrate holidays differently. Holidays are usually a time of traveling to see extended family and friends. They are a time to gather with your loved ones over shared meals and celebrations. But that has not been possible for most of us in 2020.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, gathering with others outside of your immediate family unit is not advised. “As cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to increase across the United States, the safest way to celebrate the winter holidays is to celebrate at home with people who live with you. Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.”

This reality is upsetting for many of us, which is understandable. But that doesn’t mean that the holidays—or any time we would normally gather with loved ones—has to be completely bleak. Thanks to technology, there are many ways to bond with our friends and families—both near and far.

Best Virtual Platforms to Use

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, people were using virtual platforms to stay connected with friends and family more than ever. There are several different platforms that can help meet your communication needs.

Zoom

By now, most of us have heard of Zoom and many people use it as the preferred method of virtual connection.

Pros
  • Free accounts available

  • Allows multiple meeting participants

  • Provides screen sharing with annotations

  • Offers breakout rooms

Cons
  • Free accounts have 40-minute session limits

Because of Zoom's many helpful features, it is often a go-to choice for many people. You can use the screen share function to share recipes and play digital games with loved ones.

During Thanksgiving and for Christmas 2020, Zoom created its #ZoomTogether campaign, removing its 40-minute time limit from free accounts. Zoom's website lists the days and times where this limit will be lifted during the 2020 holiday season:

  • 10 a.m. ET Thursday, Dec. 17, to 6 a.m. ET Saturday, Dec. 19
  • 10 a.m. ET Wednesday, Dec. 23, to 6 a.m. ET Saturday, Dec. 26
  • 10 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Dec. 30, to 6 a.m. ET on Saturday, Jan. 2

Google Meet

Google Meet has many of the same features as Zoom and is easy for anyone to access.

Pros
  • Free accounts available

  • Only the meeting organizer needs a Google account

  • Supports multiple participants

  • Offers screen sharing

Cons
  • 60-minute session limit

  • No breakout rooms

  • No annotation feature during screen share

Skype, FaceTime, and Facebook Video Chat

FaceTime and Facebook require all participants to have accounts, which may be an issue in some cases. Additionally, these platforms have lower limits to the number of people who can join. However, if they are platforms that your family members feel more comfortable with, you can certainly use them instead.

Hold Practice Sessions

If you are connecting virtually with family members who are older or who may feel less comfortable with modern technology, you may want to have a session or two prior to your big event to get everyone comfortable with the platform.

For most users, it’s just a matter of knowing how to log in, making sure the audio and video are configured correctly, and then feeling comfortable interacting with others virtually.

It can take some getting used to, so if you are helping a loved one with it, be patient, and ask that they be patient too.

Fun Virtual Activities to Try

Once you and your friends and family have agreed on a virtual platform, it’s time to brainstorm some ideas. The good news is that aside from being in the same room with your loved ones, most holiday activities can actually be done virtually! Below are some ideas to get you started.

Have a Virtual Family Dinner

Sharing a meal is one of the most traditional ways to mark holidays and special occasions. Unfortunately, having a meal together usually means being inside where COVID-19 transmission is riskier—and it also means that most people will not be wearing a mask during meals. But that doesn’t mean you can’t eat together virtually.

Each person in your party that would normally dine together can set up their computer or tablets in the room where they are eating. You can decorate your room and even break out the fancy dishes and cutlery.

A really fun way to bond over a virtual family meal is to do a recipe exchange before the date, and have each party cook the same foods so that they are really “sharing” meals. Alternatively, if you live near each other, you can do a contactless drop-off of foods you each prepare, then eat together virtually.

Cook Together

Cooking or baking together is a wonderful way to bond virtually and the results are delicious. Doing this activity takes some preparation. Share your recipe a few days before the event so everyone can shop for ingredients.

You can also discuss what kitchen appliances might be useful to have on hand. In some cases, it can be fun to discover a new recipe together and make it for the first time. In other cases, one participant might teach others how to bake or cook the dish.

This is also a great activity for children and grandparents to do together. Grandma can teach her grandkids how to cook her famous cookies or bake her most delicious bread.

This is a great opportunity to pass along favorite family recipes. Of course, younger kids will need parental supervision to make this happen safely.

Crafts

As with cooking, crafting is a fantastic thing to do together virtually, especially with children. This is another activity that takes some preparation as materials will need to be gathered and directions shared beforehand.

Kids can craft with their friends, cousins, or extended family. Holidays are great opportunities for crafting, and there are many simple craft activities that translate well to virtual platforms. Think ornament making, wreath making, and holiday card creating.

Other non-holiday specific ideas include origami, snowflake making, and simple jewelry making. More experienced adults can teach crafting skills like knitting and sewing. The possibilities are endless.

Dance Party

Being cooped up indoors, especially as it gets colder outside means that many of us aren’t getting to move our bodies as much as we would like. Besides movement for health reasons, getting your heart rate up helps release “feel-good” hormones and can boost energy and morale. Having a dance party is a great way to bond with your loved ones from afar.

If one of you takes the screen sharing reins, you can stream a dance instruction video that the group can follow together. You can also participate in a formal online dance class with your loved ones.

Other ideas include a simple game of “freeze dance,” where you dance until someone pauses the music and then freeze in place. Or, you can take turns cuing up your favorite dance music and just dance, freestyle, in whatever way suits you.

Talent Show

Little kids love talent shows. What better way to get everyone to listen as you act out your favorite song along with that terrific dance sequence?

Other kids have developed special skills that they want to show off (harmonica playing, anyone?). Even kids who don’t like to perform may have special talents that they would like to showcase. Kids can share their crafting projects or that short story they spent weeks perfecting.

The idea of doing a virtual talent show doesn’t necessarily have to have a competitive element in it, unless your family or friends’ group enjoys that kind of thing. You can do a “talent share” night too. The idea is to set a date, ask everyone to prepare a short presentation, and then enjoy. Got someone who doesn’t want to perform? Have them be an audience member who gives feedback.

Game Night

Playing games together over virtual platforms is something tweens and teens were doing before the pandemic but it’s definitely become a thing that many of us enjoy, and something that can be done with family and friend groups. Your group can pick a popular game that seems to translate well to the virtual world.

Some favorites for tweens, teens, and older kids include Among Us and the Jackbox.tv game series. For younger children, you can download apps for many of their favorite classic games, including UNO, Monopoly, and Scattergories.

Video games like Animal Crossing and Super Smash Brothers can be played virtually as well. Kahoot! is a quiz building website where you can design your own trivia questions for your family, create a shareable link, and play together virtually.

Holiday Movie Watching

Watching our favorite movies together during holidays or other special occasions is a beloved tradition. You can share an intimate moviegoing experience virtually as well.

Here’s how it works. You designate someone to be the “screen sharer.” They log into their favorite movie streaming platform (Netflix, Hulu, Disney +, etc.) and then share their screen with you at your preferred moving viewing time. Then, you can video chat or do a conference call during the movie to share those special moments.

You can also use your virtual platform’s chat feature if you want to keep interruptions to a minimum. Oh, and don’t forget some yummy snacks!

Opening Gifts Together

A favorite element of many family get togethers, especially during the holiday season, is opening gifts together. But thanks to online ordering and delivery, as well as video chatting software, that experience can be replicated even during a pandemic.

Just make sure your gifts will arrive on time, then set up a time and date to open the gifts together. If you want to make it even more fun, you can dress up for the occasion. Then, take turns opening the gifts virtually! So much fun. You can do this for birthdays, baby showers, and wedding/engagement parties as well.

Conversation Starters

One of the more challenging parts of video chatting is the discomfort some people feel adapting to a new mode of communicating. That’s why organized activities such as cooking, crafting, and games are helpful.

But sometimes you might just want to connect and have a nice conversation with your group. Preparing with a few “conversation starters'' may sound corny or forced, but it actually can be very helpful.

There are several conversation starter card packs on the market that you can purchase and then share with your group. You can also find lists of conversation prompts online. In addition, you can make up your own.

Using screen sharing can be helpful here, and you can also break into smaller groups to discuss if need be (i.e., younger kids can get one set up prompts in a “break out room,” and older kids or grown ups can get a different set of prompts).

A Word From Verywell

Adapting to new ways of communicating and gathering with loved ones certainly has a learning curve. But if this pandemic has proven anything, it’s just how resilient and strong we all are.

Still, you may have family members who refuse to connect virtually and insist on in-person gatherings that may or may not be safe. Navigating different approaches to gathering during the pandemic can be stressful.

If you have a family member who is resistant to virtual gatherings, make sure to listen to their feelings. You can assure them that while virtual gatherings may not be exact replications of pre-pandemic gatherings, there are ways to make them as spirited and special as possible.

Sometimes reluctant participants just need a little hand-holding as they get used to technology. Either way, these new adjustments are “only for now,” as they say. The hope is that with promising vaccines and COVID-19 treatments, we will see our way out of this pandemic within the next six to 12 months.

The hope is that the next holiday season will be much safer in terms of in person gathering. Until then, we are all lucky to have these virtual alternatives.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Holiday Celebrations and Gatherings. Updated February 18, 2021.

  2. Zoom Video Communications, Inc. #ZoomTogether: Celebrate the Holidays with Unlimited Meetings from Zoom. Published December 16, 2020.