Couple enjoys a nice Christmas dinner while staying virtually connected to their loved ones.

With coronavirus cases surging and ICUs filling up in many parts of the country, another holiday may have to be celebrated without the physical company of friends and family. That doesn’t mean Christmas 2020 is fated to be a lonely, dismal affair, though. With the help of today’s technology, you can still connect with your loved ones and keep them virtually close during the most wonderful time of the year.

The Tech

Social Video Platforms

Christmas Zoom

Your first order of business is to confer with your loved ones about which platform to use. While we all might be a bit Zoomed out, the popular video-conferencing app is free, easy-to-use, and fairly reliable. Typically calls on personal accounts have a 40-minute time limit, but there’s always the chance that Zoom will be generous again like it was at Thanksgiving and allow unlimited chats during Christmas and the few days around it.

There are also lots of other platforms to choose from: Google Meet, Facetime for Apple users, Google Duo, and Amazon Echo Show can all be used for video conferencing. The key is to pick something available to everyone involved and easy enough for even the oldest adults in the group to use.

Plugging in to a Bigger Screen

Chromecast smart streaming hub.

If you plan to be video-yakking with your friends and family for more than a few minutes this Christmas, you can increase your yuletide comfort by connecting to your TV. Many households have AppleTV or Chromecast streaming boxes that already support screen sharing, but even if you don’t have one of these devices, you can always plug your laptop or phone directly into your TV. This will probably require an HDMI or USB cable, and in some cases, you may also need an adapter for your iPhone or other gadgets. Once you’re hooked up, just make sure the phone or camera is close enough to capture your face but far enough away that it won’t cause feedback with the TV.

Accessories

Your digital date with family can go even smoother with the aid of a couple other technological accessories. For instance, if you plan on being alone for your calls, wearing a good pair of headphones with a built-in microphone will easily solve the problem of cut-off phrases and extra feedback. On the other hand, if you’re going to be doing an activity that requires lots of moving around, you might want to have a tripod handy so you don’t have to take the phone with you everywhere (or worse, make your viewers dizzy!).

Tech-Assisted Holiday Activities

Now let’s get down to the fun. Try these festive activities with your loved ones to make this Noel feel a little more connected.

Opening Presents Together

The excitement of Christmas morning can still be an inclusive experience. Grab that tripod and allow your family to see the wonder and gratitude on your face as you open their gifts.

Cooking a Meal Together

Cooking a Christmas Meal Together (Virtually)

For many people, the holidays mean being together in the kitchen for all the tasty food prep. This year, you could simply shoot the breeze while you each prepare your own dishes, or you could coordinate to make the same food at the same time. If you really want to feel connected, you could even order and cook the same meal prep box from places like Blue Apron or Home Chef.

Eating Together

Sharing a meal together is also a big part of holiday memories. Whether you’re eating the same food or not, pick a time and set up a video chat so that you’re all sitting around your tables at once. To keep the conversation moving from just “how are you?” and “what’s the weather like?,” you could prepare questions to ask each other like “what is one of your favorite childhood Christmas traditions?” or “What’s your favorite Christmas song and why?”

Playing Virtual Games

Pictionary Air

There are plenty of ways to enjoy those traditional games over video this year. You could try Pictionary Air, a new version of the old classic where players write in the air and their doodles show up on screen. Charades also translates easily over Zoom, as even patchy audio won’t slow you down.

Online Gaming

For more serious gamers, there are a plethora of options to help you connect to your loved ones online. Besides the trendy social games like Among Us, your family could all log on to sites like Roblox or Animal Crossing to role-play or build together. Netgames.io gives players access to party games like Codenames, One Night Werewolf, and Avalon. Sites like Kahoot.com allow users anywhere to link up and compete at quizzes together. If you like old school games, you can also play Uno on play.unofreak.com or Monopoly on webolpoly.org.

Watching Movies Together

Family snuggles up and watches a movie for Christmas.

Apps like Teleparty allow you to virtually watch movies and mkae witty banter with your friends and family.

If your holiday jam is curling up with your loved ones for a good Christmas movie, check out Teleparty, an app that lets groups watch a single screen together with a side chat function. It works with Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, and Hulu. The program Airtime works for YouTube videos.

Even if it involves more screens than we’d prefer, this Christmas can still be one surrounded by the faces and laughter of friends and family — so long as we’re armed with the right tech and some cracker-jack holiday activity ideas, of course!