12/23/2021 | By Annie Tobey

Creative ways to stage a family holiday Zoom call

The years 2020 to 2021 have been massively inconvenient at best, tragic at worst. Now, to add insult to injury, the omicron variant of the coronavirus threatens to ruin favorite family holiday traditions once again.

This year, social distancing may preclude group gathering if you or your loved ones are in a vulnerable group due to age or medical conditions. To make the best of the challenge, you can host a virtual family holiday celebration and still make meaningful memories!

Consider the elements that make family holidays so valuable: memories, food, and engagement. We recall old memories and make new ones; we eat traditional foods, including family favorites; and we simply spend time together.

To transfer these same memory-making traditions to a virtual platform, consider how to translate those elements to a virtual gathering using Zoom or another video-conferencing service.

Memories: Remember & Create

An electronic celebration can make recalling old memories even easier.

Use memorable pictures for your Zoom backgrounds

Choose from favorite places you’ve visited together, old homesteads, friends, family, pets from the past, etc. Be sure to talk about the pictures!

Share memories

Put together family slideshows. Using screen-sharing, you can click through lots of great pictures – much like Granddad’s slideshows of days past! Or simply take turns telling a family memory or tradition that each person is grateful for.

Record memories

Although it’s easy enough to just use an audio recorder or notepad while you chat about memories, you could also seek out a scrapbook or other more formal means of recording the good times, special occasions, challenges, milestones, etc. Two helpful resources are:

  1. “The Family Story Workbook.” This memory-generating book provides prompts for capturing details of times past. Choose several entries that work well for groups, such as “What is one of the oldest family stories that you know on your maternal side?” (Page 16) or “What is something you learned from your father or another close man in your life?” (Page 89). You can record the virtual session to make sure you didn’t miss any details, or so you can just enjoy the exchange of memories without taking notes.
  2. StoryCorps. This nonprofit records conversations, mostly from average Americans, on their memories, lives, challenges, and gratitude. Given the constraints of the pandemic, StoryCorps has created an online platform for recording these conversations remotely. The StoryCorps Connect website also suggests questions to get the chat rolling.

Food: Share a Meal

Distance doesn’t have to dim the pleasure of breaking bread together. With a little planning, you can still enjoy a meal “side by side.” OK, so it’s a Brady Bunch-style side-by-side montage, but you get the picture.

Postal potluck

Arrange for food delivery that will ensure that you are enjoying some of the same dishes for your shared meal. Does your family have traditional items that can stand up to DIY shipping? Think gingerbread cookies, peppermint bark, Chex mix, zucchini bread, stollen, or mixed nuts. As an alternative, check on a delivery service like Goldbelly that ships food from some of the best vendors in the nation. You can order a hickory-smoked turkey from Logan Farms; “Oprah’s Favorite” chicken pie from Centerville Pie Co.; Southern side dishes from Kings BBQ; mincemeat pie from Red Truck Bakery; and so much more!

Family virtual holiday celebration eating together

Schedule dinnertime

… And plan to eat at the same time. Position the computer or smartphone at the head of the table. Your virtual visitors can see their loved ones and you can see them.

Engagement: Let the Good Times Zoom

Perhaps your family needs no catalyst to keep a conversation going for hours on end. Sometimes, however, holiday together times are interspersed with amiable silence or with shared activities like watching a movie or playing flag football. You can bolster your virtual family holiday celebration by planning some mutual activities.

Need a primer on Zoom? We’ve got that!

Watch a football game

For many families, holiday parades and football games play important roles in the annual tradition. You can still do that together! Imagine, all of the joking, commenting, armchair coaching, and catcalls you so enjoy! If everyone has their own TV, you can trade barbs over Zoom or other communication device. (Consider turning off the volume for all of the TVs except one if you’re on a videoconference platform.) If some don’t have access to the game, screen-sharing can help you experience it together.

Here’s what’s playing for 2021 Christmas games:

  1. Christmas Day, 4:30 p.m. EST: Cleveland Browns versus Green Bay Packers, Fox/NFL Network.
  2. Christmas Day, 8:15 p.m. EST: Indianapolis Colts versus Arizona Cardinals, NFL Network.

Watch a movie

Pick out a classic movie, like a holiday favorite that you’ve watched together in the past or a new movie that might even kick off a new tradition. Again, these can be played via screensharing if not everyone has a DVD player or streaming service.

Play games

Although the Internet offers some virtual games, it’s not necessary to be high-tech or complex. These easy games range from conversation starters to easy-prep options.

  1. “I Spy … in My Mind’s Eye.” This is like the kids’ game, “I Spy … with My Little Eye,” except players think of memories – like a family heirloom, the town where the siblings all grew up, etc. – rather than an object that they actually see. For example, one player is thinking of the one-time family dog, Taffy. He or she says, “I spy with my mind’s eye … something that starts with a T,” or “… something that is light brown.” Guessers ask questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”
  2. “Who Am I?” Like “I Spy” but using people – family friends, grandparents, etc. A player thinks of a person, says “Who Am I?” and guessers ask questions that can be answered “yes” or “no.” For example, “Are you female?” “Are you a football fan?”
  3. Bingo. Create custom Bingo cards with the caller’s list representing family memories and each square listing one of those memories. The list can be created ahead of time or as part of the game. If memories are created early, one person can send the cards out. Or each person can create their own cards on a blank piece of paper. Include prizes, like the winner gets an IOU for a cocktail or movie ticket from the others – to be shared next time you’re really together. And be sure to talk about the memories!
  4. Trivia. Scatter custom family trivia in with other trivia questions: anniversaries, birthdays, family vacations, an old address, etc. You could use the videoconferencing chat feature to send answers at the same time or use private chats to play as teams.

We typically gather with our loved ones for holidays, especially on the holidays. With a little creativity, we can still “get together” for a virtual family holiday celebration, even in coronavirus times – to fill our tummies with food, our psyches with laughter, and our souls with warmth.

This article was originally created in 2020 but was updated and republished for 2021 with the onset of the omicron variant of COVID and increasing infection rates.

Annie Tobey

Annie Tobey has been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years. As editor of BOOMER magazine, she explored a diversity of topics of particular interest to adult children of seniors. When she’s not writing, she can be found running the trails or enjoying a beer with friends.

Annie Tobey