Meaningful connections with loved ones are at the heart of a soulful Christmas celebration. Food, drink, fun, and presents are on the list too, but as a way to facilitate the connections, not as an end in themselves. This year, connecting with those we love is potentially harder than ever. Even if it’s currently safe to gather where you live, we can’t predict with any certainty that that will be the case when the actual celebration happens. That doesn’t mean we have to give up on connection this year. There are still ways to build connection and memories. Modern life is full of families with members living in different time zones, and many of them have found ways to be deeply connected all year round. The ideas listed below have been collected from clients and friends over the years. From having many discussions about this topic, I’ve learned that there’s no one solution that works for everybody– the ideas that some people adore will make other people cringe. My hope is that there is at least one idea here that will work for you and your family.
Go Old-School to Connect with Children
It’s great that we have Zoom and Snapchat and Facetime and all the technology platforms that help us to connect. But conversation with children online is often stilted, or non-existent. Sending something physical through the post works a whole lot better for young children, plus you’ll give today’s digital natives the gift of checking the mailbox with a fission of anticipation – is there anything there for me today?
You could try:
Sending small children a (holiday themed?) picture book, while getting the exact same one yourself. You can then combine Snail Mail and a video calling platform like Zoom. Have the child sit on a grown-up’s knee and look at their copy, while you read to them from your copy. Can be brilliant for tiny grandkids who can’t interact with their grandparents via screen. Older kids may appreciate the same set-up, without the need for direct adult assistance at their end – just up the age level of the book you send. Google “read-aloud books” and their age, ask them for ideas, or introduce an old favourite you enjoyed when you were their age. (As an ex-teacher, I also have to say: if they can read along with you by following the words in their own copy of the book, you will be helping to improve their fluency with reading. Plus – if they read ahead because they can’t wait to find out what happens, that means you’re hitting it out of the park. Ask them to catch you up with what happened in the story, then start reading again from where they got up to.) Double Bonus points: This may allow frazzled parents to take a small break from child-minding.
Send a care parcel – a box full of inexpensive gifts and treats for the recipient. Especially lovely if you can put this together yourself with known favourite brands or snacks included – if home baking is your thing, then send along some more robust samples for them to enjoy.
If the child in question is a writer: set up an interactive journal – a journal you take turns to write in and send back and forth to each other. A great way to get connected to the small things that happen in their day or get some insight into their thinking, plus share those things about yourself.
Send them stories or pictures of their own family history. This could be: stories of significant family events o your memories and pictures their relatives who they never met or were too young to remember o things that were very different (or the same) about your life when you were their age o funny family stories such as “the day your Dad tried to smuggle our cat to school for show-and-tell.”
Send Christmas Cards, or any simple card or postcard. Bonus: not too much space to fill with writing. Write just one sentence: things you’re looking forward to doing when you’re all together, or one memory you have of them. Send one a week if this works for you. Send a special decoration to go on the tree. This could become a yearly ritual, even after lockdown is over. Use Technology to Connect with Children Sometimes, new technology is just what we need: Use screen sharing software to go online shopping together. Play Words with Friends, Draw Something or Battle Text (all available for iOS and Android) Play chess online, or adapt family games night for an online session (many, many Youtube videos will walk you through the how-to for each specific game) Share photos privately using Family Album if you don’t want to share on a social media platform If you share an interest, use technology to connect regularly. Fitness, cycling or running apps will allow you to share data. Love the same sports team? Message each other during the slow bits. Both crafty? Send photos of work in progress. Watch a movie at the same time – Netflix has the option to set up a Family Party, but if you don’t subscribe to Netflix, a little organisation will do the trick. Always remember when communicating with children that 98% of the effort and information flow will come from you. They are unlikely to be equal partners or to communicate how much they appreciate what you’re doing. Keep doing it anyway until specifically asked to stop. They’ll take it for granted now. When they’re older, they’ll tell stories of what you did (sometimes to you) as proof of how you loved and connected with them. Connect with Adults – more than just technology. Again, yay for Zoom and Snapchat and even the humble telephone. So good to be able to hear the voices of those we love, and maybe even see them (wifi and internet speeds willing.) Not quite the same as being there, though, is it? The key to making virtual meet-ups feel less isolating is to share as much of the full experience as you can. It’s never going to be 100%, because you can’t hug each other. But you can connect on a deeper level. Some of the things that work to connect with children over distance will work with adults, too. Additionally, you could try: Take a 2020 family ugly Christmas sweater photo via Zoom – get everyone online, dressed appropriately and take a shot of the gallery view. If you haven’t done so already, you could play with filters under Video Settings. Some people will be able to rotate their video feed so that they appear upside down. In my experience, these features work well for a screen shot, or for a bit of fun the first time they’re used. Joke gets old quickly though – just like an ugly Christmas sweater, less is more. If you’re going to do a large family group meet-up on Zoom, it works best if there is a structure for the meeting. For example, everyone taking it in turn to open their gift, or to say what they’re grateful for and what they’re looking forward to, or playing a game together. If you all just get together without a purpose, because you wouldn’t play a game or take turns to open presents in real life, it’ll be hard work. With Zoom, you can only have one person talking to whole group. In real life there would be the buzz of many different small group conversations happening simultaneously. You could get round this by assigning people randomly to breakout rooms to chat and catch up in small groups. I know that can sound a bit meeting-like for a family celebration, but it can work well. Go the effort of sharing the same food and drink while you meet up. This will take some thought and planning – not all food is suitable for this. But if you were at each other’s houses, you’d be drinking and eating together. Some of the discussion would be around the food and drink, either the tradition of this is what we always have, or this is how I found this delicious new thing. Make the effort to send recipes or food, or to buy the same thing, so when you get online, there is something that you can share virtually. Arrange to do the same thing at the same time. Could be preparing the food “together” or watching a movie, decorating the house or wrapping the gifts. Possibly at least one person will be doing this at an odd time, due to time zone differences. That’s kind of the point. Provided it’s not actually the middle of the night where you are, this is totally do-able. And if you were travelling to see someone, chances are you’d be making more effort to do that than this will take. This one is time zone. weather, and city light dependant: Watch the moon and stars together. There’s a full moon on December 27 th (moonrise just on sunset). Maybe as you watch it rise, your family can be seeing it higher in the sky. There’s also the Geminid Meteor Shower on December 14-15, or else just the reassurance of finding those constellations you’ve seen all your life. This one is a bit spendy, and might take some setting up at a technology-challenged relative’s house, but the idea is lovely: These Friendship Lamps connect to your wifi. When one is touched, both change colour. A sweet way to say “I’m thinking of you” to someone who’s alone while you go about your day.