“Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow. So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”
The timeless Garland lyrics ring truer than ever as COVID-19 prevails and restrictions demand we keep our distance. Throughout the year the pandemic has impacted every area of our lives – personally, socially, and professionally – but it tugs a little harder on our heartstrings at Christmas time. Thankfully, it comes at a time when we have the resources and technology to maintain some semblance of connectivity. And while Bing certainly didn’t dream of virtual Christmas and Mariah would be less than impressed with a video chat for Christmas, this Christmas still has the potential to be merry thanks to some of these innovative tools at our disposal.
Your Virtual Christmas Host
During the course of the year, most of us will have established firm favourites when it comes to video conferencing platforms, be it Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams (to name a few). Zoom remains a popular candidate thanks to its user friendly interface and ability to host a large number of people. There has been a 40-minute time cap for free accounts, but in anticipation of the upcoming holidays, Zoom says they will remove limit so friends and families can gather virtually without the worry of getting disconnected. Which software you chose will depend on the number of participants, the duration of activities planned and, of course, what others have access to.
Food, Glorious Food
What you have planned will largely dictate how you use your technology. Just as a traditional Christmas requires preparation, your virtual Christmas will depend on it. For many of us, the focal point of the day is Christmas dinner and while we might not be able to wrap up together like pigs-in-blankets, we can still enjoy our food as a family. As Hulmer, founder of fine dining delivery service One Fine Dine, notes:
“Food is a universal language – it connects people. You can share the experience virtually.”
If you don’t have the company of your usual host this year and cooking isn’t your strong point, you can avoid cooking for yourself while still sharing a meal thanks to dinner delivery services. Or, if you happen to be a keen cook, set up your laptop on the counter and cook along with someone else.
For a virtual dinner experience, MGN managing director Mike Walker suggests using a laptop and placing it at the end of the table at a height about 30 to 50cm. This “gives a nice angle where you don’t see people chewing but you do get to turn your head and easily communicate with the screen”. Unfortunately pulling crackers is a step too far for even Zoom.
Many of us will feel limited by our 2020 Christmas but it is important that we make our technology work for us. You should feel like you can do what you always do – whether it’s watching a movie together, playing a board game or experimenting with cocktails. With Zoom you can even set the scene and apply a festive background.
When it comes to games you have a wealth of choice. If you’re going for traditional, the likes of Charades and Pictionary lend themselves perfectly to video platforms and you can use the likes of an online topic generator to manage this. Other favorites such as Monopoly can be managed from a single location, with players directing the host with the moves they’d like to make. There’s also a plethora of games available on Tabletopia and Board Game Arena for an equally immersive gaming experience.
It is customary in most households, after stuffing oneself with too much turkey, to collapse on the sofa to a Christmas movie. Platforms such as Disney+ and Amazon prime offer services that allow group watching if you, of course, have subscriptions. Alternatively, you might do just as well to time your movie experience and message simultaneously e.g. “OMG, I can’t watch this bit” (as Marve steps on the nail).
To save your grandparents the travel sickness of carrying them around on your mobile, there are a number of ways that you can connect your video call to your TV. If you have a Smart TV with an inbuilt camera, it probably came with a video chat app already pre-installed. If you don’t have a built-in camera in your TV, you can purchase a Google Chromecast, to allow you to use your phone or laptop as a remote control, and cast your video calls onto your TV screen.
To get large groups together in one Zoom call, pick one tech-savvy person to be the host. The host will ideally know about the key features such as chat, raising hands, spotlighting speakers, letting people into the call, and how to use the mute function.
If you’re dialing in solo, headphones are an easy way to eliminate the sound of screeching feedback emanating from everyone’s speakers.
Most importantly, while you have everyone on the call, take an obligatory screenshot to capture your virtual Christmas gathering. If nothing else, this Christmas will be one to remember.
No one will be able to convince you that this Christmas will be “just as good” as every other – not even Mr. Zoom (Eric Yuan) himself could boast that his platform is better than a hug from your gran. But we will do the best with what are given. And since it is Christmas, bear in mind those who do not have the luxury of a Zoom call. Perhaps suggest a charitable donation among family and friends; for there is truly no greater way to bring people together than by giving to those in need.