Seven ways to make your 2020 holidays not suck

A noble pine tree with lights and ornaments. An aviator clock and a bookshelf in the background.
Our Christmas tree, with a mix of fancy and very not-fancy ornaments
December 17, 2020
Robin Eastman

We don’t get to see our family in person this year. That sucks. But at least we have the technology to see them online! Which is great. Really it is. It’s just that by now, we are really, really tired of 20 person Zoom calls where we talk over everyone, we have no idea what to say, and no one knows how to end it gracefully.

Honestly, that’s not how we socialize. Even when we get our whole family in a room, very little time is spent with everyone in a big group and only one person talking at a time. No wonder it feels stilted and awkward.

Instead, we split up into little groups and side conversations. A few of us gather in the kitchen to do dishes and catch up. A few of us converge around a puzzle. Some are still at the table trying to save the world one conversation at a time. A pair starts a game of chess.

It turns out, you can do something more like that online, but you have to use the right tools, and you have to put a little more planning into it.

Confession: I am writing this because I co-founded a young company and I want you to use our product for your online family holidays this year (for free). I genuinely think our features, especially the ability to come and go from conversations, will help you have a better family holiday. However, even if you have no interest in trying it, please keep reading because I think the other ideas will help make your holidays a little brighter and less “Uncle Griswald, you’re still on mute!”

  1. Don’t try to keep everyone in the same video chat! Use Versatackle, so people can come and go between conversations however they want, use Icebreaker to put people in one-on-one conversations, or use Zoom breakout rooms.
  2. Plan an activity people can do physically at the same time. Bake the same cookies in different houses, make paper snowflakes, build something with Legos. You will be more connected by engaging your body, while also making it feel more natural to take breaks from looking at the screen and paying attention non-stop.
  3. Play a game together — one designed for online (like Jackbox games) or one of your in-person favorites like cards, Codenames, or Settlers of Catan.
  4. Make a family scavenger hunt — everyone anonymously adds something to a shared online doc that they think no one else in the family knows about them. Then make use of the side conversations in Versatackle, Icebreaker, or breakout rooms to wander around your family trying to find out who got their first root canal this year or won a school spelling bee when they were 9.
  5. Have a YouTube competition. Everyone picks a 1 minute video they love. Watch them together, then vote on which video is best. Make sure you can see people’s faces while watching the videos — that’s the best part. You can also use sites like Kapwing to make your own. We had a blast adding songs to videos of pandas and penguins and then having a dance battle.
  6. Have some people who love games and activities and some people who hate them? That’s what side conversations are for! Set up a space for Euchre and one for baking cookies, and one just to chat. Encourage people to come and go. Have one or two things you want everyone to attend (gather in the “Birthday” conversation at 5:00 pm EST, so we can all sing to cousin Susan!) Otherwise, just let people flow, like they would at a party.
  7. Deputize the youth. Do some of these ideas sound fun, but you don’t think grandpa is going to be able to follow everything? Ask the teens/young adults to each sponsor a technophobic relative.

It’s not going to be the same this year, we all know that. We’ve spent the last year mourning and struggling to pay bills, be good parents, and not burnout. But when connecting is hardest, it is also at its most precious. We can still learn new things about people we’ve known our whole lives and we can still make fond family memories. At least in 2020, you don’t have to do everyone else’s dishes.

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