Online Christmas: digitally through the coronavirus crisis

Susanne Loacker

For relatives from abroad in particular, it will probably be difficult to travel to Switzerland and celebrate here this year. That’s a pity – and at the same time a great chance to link up digitally and be joined by those relatives who usually celebrate the festive season on the other side of the world. You can create a Christmas mood with special Christmas backgrounds in video conferencing programs, Christmas carol karaoke or digital greeting cards. We also provide instructions on video calls – which could prove particularly useful for inexperienced older people.

A hand is holding a champagne glass; in the background, a laptop can be seen with a video call taking place. Everything is Christmassy.
© Getty Images

In this article

Sending invitations and Christmas greeting cards digitally

Admittedly, this year’s festive season will be a bit different. Personal gatherings are only permitted in small groups – so it makes sense to send invitations to an online celebration or to exchange Christmas greetings digitally this year.

The simplest solution for a digital Christmas card is to use Google Docs. You can easily include texts, pictures, videos and GIFs in the file – a two-sided doc will even give you a kind of digital folding card. Another possibility is Adobe Spark, where you can design greeting cards (e-cards) online and then send them as PDF files to your loved ones. The result is often a little more attractive than with Google Docs.

A digital Christmas greeting or invitation becomes even more professional with a pre-designed Christmas card – for example from Paperless Post. Cards can also be personalized, but this option is not available for free.

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How to create a Christmas spirit

For a party with the proper festive touch, why not choose a theme – for example a classic ugly-sweater party? Even color concepts, such as red and gold decorations, but guests dressed in green and white, will ensure a wonderful Christmas atmosphere. An individual playlist with the party guests’ favorite songs is also a must.

A video call via Skype or Zoom brings the family together. It can be made particularly festive with the special virtual backgrounds available in Zoom – how about Christmas tree balls, pine-tree arrangements or a festive sea of lights? If you want to customize things even more, you can even upload your own picture as a background – for example from a previous year’s Christmas party with your family.

Please note: if you choose the free version of Zoom, the call will end after 40 minutes. But don’t panic, just log in again with the original link and carry on with your party.

For instructions on how to set a virtual background in Zoom, or how to upload a customized background, please go to the Zoom Help Center.

Short instructions for (older) relatives: using Zoom

The planning and organization of a Zoom Christmas party is certainly best left to the more technically minded family members. But grandparents, aunts and uncles or other relatives who are not so familiar with technology must also register with Zoom and be able to find their way to the meeting. We provide some brief instructions here.

If certain members of the family are not so familiar with Zoom, perhaps a helpful neighbor or relative could download and install it for them beforehand. Then the easiest thing to do is to invite them to take part in a Zoom video call. They will receive a link from the Christmas party organizers via email or chat. They simply need to click on the link, and the Christmas party can get underway.

If Zoom is not yet installed, the family member can still attend the Christmas party without having to bother downloading and setting up the program. All they need is the meeting ID from the organizer, then they can go to the Zoom meeting website, type in the meeting ID and click on “Join”. They should then select “Log in with your browser” in the bottom center of the screen. Then they just enter their name, tick the checkbox “I am not a robot” and click on “Join”. And the virtual party can begin.

An elderly man and a woman in a Santa hat are enjoying a video call with their children and grandchildren. The room is festively decorated.

Stay networked with grandparents, even at Christmas – all the generations can meet up for a video call.

Party time: a karaoke and virtual games evening

A certain amount of preparation is needed to create a virtual Christmas karaoke and games evening – but that’s no different outside the virtual world.

Virtual karaoke fun

For a karaoke event, the Watch2Gether system is ideal in addition to Zoom. This allows you to watch videos at the same time as everyone else at the party. First create a virtual room at Watch2Gether. Now you will see a bar at the top of the screen where you can add your favorite karaoke songs from YouTube, Vimeo or any other source. How about a colorful mix of Christmas classics and pop songs?

Use “Invite Friends” in the upper right-hand corner to invite all the Christmas party participants – and enjoy some karaoke fun.

Designing a digital games evening

If you like spending the evenings playing family games at Christmas, you can still do so online. For example, if you want to play “Who am I” or “Charades”, an additional chat program, such as WhatsApp, is helpful. You will then need to set up chat groups: for “Who am I”, create as many chat groups as there are players – leaving out one participant in each group so that the other players can try and guess their secret identity.

For “Charades”, divide the players into two groups. Now a person from group A sends a word to a person from group B, which they have to try and mime via video chat. It’s best to set an additional timer of two to three minutes on a smartphone – depending on how difficult the words are. Similarly, you can create a game of “Pictionary” or “Scattergories” – you will need additional paper and pens for this.

Another option is a virtual quiz, which you can get ready in advance by putting together a PowerPoint presentation. One slide shows the question, the next slide reveals the answer. This game requires the most preparation time – but certainly guarantees entertainment.

A woman with a party hat and a drink in her hand is standing in front of a computer with a video conference taking place. There are discreet Christmas decorations.

Celebrate digitally together with friends or family, so that nobody is left out at Christmas.

Gift-guessing in a video call

A popular tradition at Christmas parties among families is gift-guessing. Either to guess what’s in a parcel or to work out who the present is from. With the first option, there is hardly any difference between digital guessing and guessing in person. The second alternative, on the other hand, requires preparation – otherwise the giver will give themselves away by the address on the parcel. The simplest solution: if the present comes from an online store, you can select an option to indicate that it is a gift. Some stores also let you specify that the gift should be sent without mentioning the name of the sender.

It gets a little more complicated if you prefer to buy your gifts locally before posting them to your relatives. However, you can still make arrangements with relatives who live nearby. Get mom to come and collect all the presents for one person who can’t be there for the party, while dad can be in charge of gathering those for someone else, and so on. Afterwards, the collectors send the parcels to the recipient all together in a big box – and voilà: the sender’s address won’t reveal anything about the actual gift giver.

For little guests: stories, movies and handicrafts

A video call with small children can be exhausting – we’ve all discovered that this year. But the little ones shouldn’t be left out, especially at Christmas. A fairy tale hour with grandma and grandpa reading out their favorite Christmas stories will make the smaller party guests the center of attention.

Slightly older children are sure to enjoy a movie night with the whole family. Many streaming services now offer a party function, where it’s only possible to start or pause the film at the same time for all the party guests.

If the children enjoy doing handicrafts, then a “handicraft workshop” with an aunt or grandpa is a good idea. You could organize a tutorial on folding paper into Christmas stars or making Christmas tree decorations from straw, for instance. Alternatively, grandma could decorate the Christmas tree with her grandchildren’s help – the grandchildren tell her where the ornaments should go, then grandma hangs them on her tree on the other side of the screen.

Conclusion: making the best of the situation digitally

A digital Christmas obviously isn’t comparable to a real Christmas party with friends and family. In 2020, given the coronavirus situation, we have to be creative – so a karaoke or games evening is a good alternative. With a bit of preparation, the party can get started on 24 December.

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