The coronavirus pandemic has forced us to rethink the way we celebrate holidays and special occasions with friends and family. With no vaccine and no effective treatment, the best way to fight the virus was to control its spread through social distancing: avoiding close contact with others, especially in large groups. Then when the pandemic showed no signs of easing up by October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged people to skip indoor haunted houses and door-to-door trick-or-treating for Halloween and limit themselves to small outdoor gatherings for Thanksgiving.
Now, it’s beginning to look like COVID-19 will finally do what the Grinch couldn’t: stop us from celebrating Christmas with our friends and family members. But it doesn’t have to.
With a little creativity, you can find ways to make this holiday season memorable without putting yourself or your loved ones at risk. For instance, you can focus more on the beloved holiday traditions you usually share with your immediate family. You can participate in open-air activities and gatherings, which allow for social distancing and make it harder for germs to spread. You can exchange gifts and greetings by mail and move holiday get-togethers with friends and distant relatives online.
By thinking outside the box, you can continue to enjoy almost all your favorite holiday activities in fun new ways that protect you, your family, and your community. And who knows — maybe you’ll find some of these revamped activities so much fun, they’ll turn into new holiday traditions.
COVID-19-Safe At-Home Activities
Big holiday parties with lots of people aren’t the only way to celebrate. There are lots of fun activities you can enjoy at home with just your immediate family. During this socially distanced holiday season, focusing more on these intimate family activities is a way to keep the magic of Christmas alive.
One way to put these at-home activities front and center is to make a special Advent calendar. Instead of including a little treat for each day leading up to Christmas, put in a slip of paper with the name of one of these holiday activities you can do together as a family.
1. Create & Put Together a Custom Puzzle
When the weather outside is frightful, doing a jigsaw puzzle is a cozy, relaxing activity to enjoy indoors. Sitting around the table working on the same activity creates a sense of togetherness and encourages cooperation. You can help each other look for those hard-to-find pieces and share in the satisfaction as the picture slowly takes shape.
To make this activity extra special, have a puzzle made from your favorite family holiday photo. Services like Shutterfly and Collage can convert the image of your choice into a puzzle for around $30. You can also make your own puzzle with just a few simple tools you probably have around the house. Making the puzzle together before solving it can be part of the fun.
Alternatively, jigsaw puzzles with Christmas or winter themes are easy to find this time of year. For $20 or less, you can buy a 1,000-piece puzzle to keep your family occupied for hours. In addition to Amazon, you can look for them at big-box stores like Walmart and Target, toy stores, bookstores, and even your local drugstore. Thrift shops sometimes have them for even less, but check to make sure they have all their pieces before buying.
2. Make Extraordinary Holiday Treats
During the pandemic, baking at home has become more popular than ever — and there’s no better time for baking than the holidays. If your family has a traditional Christmas cake, cookie, or treat you always enjoy this time of year, get out the recipe box and make it together.
If you don’t, it’s time to start a new tradition. Choose a festive holiday goodie to make, decorate, and eat together. To make it more interesting, dig out Grandma’s old recipe box for old-timey holiday treats or search for vintage recipes on the Internet.
Some easy treats to try include:
- Fanciful Gingerbread People. For a Christmas classic with a twist, make traditional gingerbread people using fun cookie cutter shapes, like “Star Wars” characters, dinosaurs, sea creatures, or the Avengers. Or go big with a giant gingerbread man you can dress up in an ugly Christmas sweater made from royal icing.
- Pinwheel Cookies. It’s always fun to decorate a simple sugar cookie in traditional holiday shapes, like stars or reindeer. But for a sugar cookie with the holiday color scheme baked right in, try pinwheel cookies instead.
- Chocolate Truffles. Classic holiday rum balls are easier to make than many people realize. Or for a similar ball candy with a Latin flair, try brigadeiro, Brazilian chocolate truffles.
- Candy Bark. Peppermint bark made with white and dark chocolate and crushed candy canes is an easy, festive treat that requires no baking. But you can also make your bark with less traditional candies, such as toffee or even Pop Rocks.
- Cream Cheese Candies. You could hardly ask for a more straightforward candy recipe than these simple cream cheese mints. The almond flavor is delicious too. For extra fun, split them into batches and dye them different festive colors.
- Festive Quick Breads. Easy orange-cranberry bread features a classic holiday flavor combo. You can also turn a traditional holiday drink into a dessert with eggnog quick bread.
If this sounds like more sweets than you can (or should) eat all by yourselves, why not share them with others? Divide your goodies into packages and drop them off on the doorsteps of friends and neighbors — especially those who are on their own for the holidays. Other good places to spread your holiday cheer include nursing homes, hospitals, and your local fire department. Just call ahead to get the details on their COVID-19 precautions, which may include things like using special entrances or meeting a worker outdoors in addition to the usual masking and distancing.
3. Do Novel Christmas Crafts
There are all kinds of holiday craft activities kids and adults can both enjoy. But skip the same old stuff you do every year in favor of some memory-making DIYs. A few possibilities:
- Christmas Masks. No, not the kind of masks we’re all using right now to protect ourselves from the coronavirus (though you can make DIY versions of those as well). Instead, make some simple Christmas-themed costume masks out of paper plates with these instructions from Design Improved. Possibilities include Santa, Mrs. Claus, and a snowman. Then take some family photos in your new get-ups to share with relatives.
- DIY Ornaments. There are tons of instructions online for simple DIY Christmas decorations and ornaments to add to your Christmas tree. In addition to the classic paper snowflakes, you can make holiday shapes from twigs and embroidery floss, angels from soda cans, or faux candles from paper and glue.
- Gingerbread Engineering. You don’t need a fancy store-bought kit to make a gingerbread house. All you need is a good, sturdy gingerbread recipe, patterns for cutting it out, some homemade white icing, and your favorite candies for decorating. Get the full instructions on Taste of Home. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, try using gingerbread to construct something less traditional, like a candy-filled train or a car loaded with presents.
- Wishful Snow Globes. It’s not that hard to make a custom snow globe in a canning jar. If you live in a place where Christmas is usually green, this is a fun way to add a touch of Winter Wonderland to your holiday. Check out this tutorial from Martha Stewart for instructions. Try putting an original spin on your snow globe by filling it with unexpected items, such as a pink flamingo, superhero figurine, or laminated picture of yourself.
4. Trim the Tree — Outdoors
For many people, decorating the Christmas tree marks the real start of the holiday season.
And since it’s going to be so hard to gather with friends this year, consider decorating an outdoor tree instead of (or in addition to) your indoor one. That way, neighbors passing by can stop to admire your tree and celebrate with you from a safe distance. It can also become a gathering place for safe, socially distanced outdoor gatherings with friends and neighbors.
To deck out your outdoor tree, choose holiday lights marked as safe for outdoor use. If you select solar-powered lights, you won’t have to run an extension cord to the house. Start by properly hanging the lights before putting up ornaments and candy canes so you don’t knock them off trying to give your tree that Christmas glow. Consider hanging some paper tags and a marker on your tree as well, and invite neighbors to write down their Christmas wishes. When the tree’s decked out, take pictures of yourselves around it to post online.
If you opt for a live tree this year, read our articles on choosing a live Christmas tree and caring for a real Christmas tree.
5. Make a Holiday Playlist
Setting the scene for Christmas isn’t just about the eyes. It’s about the ears too. Nothing puts you in the Christmas spirit faster than a background of carols or other holiday favorites.
To create your own perfect version of holiday cheer, put together a special playlist to listen to in the days before Christmas. You can find instructions online for making playlists in different music players and apps, such as iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, SoundCloud, Apple Music, and Google Play Music. Or if you want to incorporate songs from your record collection, you can go old-school and record them onto a cassette mixtape.
Invite all members of the family to include their favorite holiday songs in your playlist. Don’t be afraid to mix musical genres. The contrast of having Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” followed by “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” just adds to the fun.
6. Cuddle Up With Homemade Cocoa
Sometimes, you don’t need to be doing much of anything to bond or just unwind after a stressful week. Simply snuggling on the couch sipping hot cocoa with marshmallows creates an atmosphere of hygge — cozy comfort and togetherness — that’s perfect for the Christmas season.
And making a flavorful cocoa can be part of this holiday activity. You can choose a traditional hot cocoa recipe or shake it up with a flavor like orange hot chocolate, white hot chocolate, or spicy Mexican hot chocolate. You can even make your own marshmallows.
To up the coziness factor even more, put on matching holiday jammies and light a fire in the fireplace. (If you don’t have a fireplace, streaming a log fire video on your TV set makes a decent substitute.)
7. Read a New or Classic Christmas Story — Aloud
Many people think of reading out loud as an activity you only do with young children who can’t read on their own yet. However, in the days before TV, reading aloud to a group was a popular form of entertainment for adults as well. And if you have an aspiring actor in the house, it’s a great outlet for their creative muse.
Some classic and less traditional seasonal stories for listeners of all ages include:
- “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” This classic children’s tale by Dr. Seuss recounts how the mean-spirited Grinch tries to stop Christmas from happening by stealing the presents, decorations, and food, only to discover that the Christmas spirit means more than any of these.
- “The Legend of the Poinsettia.” Children’s author and illustrator Tomie de Paola recounts the Mexican legend of how the poinsettia came to exist through a little girl’s Christmas offering to the Baby Jesus.
- “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” Clement C. Moore’s beloved poem is narrated by a father awake on Christmas Eve who sees Saint Nicholas arrive with gifts for the family.
- “The Nutcracker in Harlem.” In T. E. McMorrow’s retelling of the story behind the famous ballet, a little girl in 1920s Harlem discovers her musical gifts through her adventures with a magical toy. The book is beautifully illustrated by James Ransome.
- “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” In this humorous story, Barbara Robinson tells how the Herdmans, a family of six ill-behaved kids, take over the school Christmas pageant and turn it into something unexpectedly magical.
- “Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries.” This collection edited by Martin Edwards features such classic Christmas mysteries as Arthur Conan Doyle’s jewel-heist adventure “The Blue Carbuncle,” Marjorie Bowen’s poisoning case “Cambric Tea,” and Dorothy Sayers’ house-party caper “The Necklace of Pearls.”
- “The Gift of the Magi.” O. Henry’s famous story relates how a financially struggling husband and wife part with their most beloved treasures to buy each other Christmas presents with some unexpected results.
- “A Christmas Carol.” This famous novella by Charles Dickens describes how three spirits appear to the miserly Scrooge to remind him of the true meaning of Christmas.
- “Amazing Peace.” Maya Angelou’s inspiring poem, which she read aloud at the lighting of the White House Christmas tree in 2005, celebrates the “Glad Season” and its message of peace and hope.
8. Have a Christmas Treasure Hunt
With fewer people gathered around the Christmas tree this year, opening presents won’t take as long as usual. If you want to stretch out the excitement, have your family members search for some of their gifts through a holiday scavenger hunt.
Hide each present in a different location, then lead them to the gift through a series of written clues. Each clue should point the way to the next until the final one, which leads to the actual present. For example, “Keep looking for your gift — you’re getting warmer!” could tell them to look next to the fireplace or a radiator. You can find more suggestions for clues at House Beautiful and Scavenger Hunt Fun.
Another way to have a holiday-themed scavenger hunt is to make lists of things you can find around the house or neighborhood at Christmastime. Give each person a list and try to be the first to find every item on it. You can buy ready-made scavenger hunt cards, search for printable lists online, or create your own.
9. Make a Special Meal
For many families, the focal point of Christmas celebrations is a big dinner with the whole extended family gathered around the table. Gathering everyone together isn’t possible this year, but you can still make the dinner festive. Instead of a big roast turkey or ham, make a smaller dish that stands out, like pan-seared steak with homemade compound butter, orange-pomegranate salmon, or pesto and burrata lasagna. Use the good tablecloth and dishes, just like you would for a big family gathering, to make the meal extra special.
If the idea of having Christmas dinner without all the relatives would just remind you of what you’re missing, have your special meal earlier in the day. And instead of a festive dinner, serve up a special breakfast or brunch with treats you don’t typically get to enjoy. Try something unusual like Japanese souffle pancakes, brownie waffles, veggie omelets with goat cheese, or orange-cardamom cinnamon rolls. Another good option is a customizable breakfast casserole you can prepare the night before so all you have to do on Christmas morning is pop it into the oven.
According to the CDC, if you want to meet with friends and family in person during this pandemic, the safest place to do it is outdoors. Not only is there more room for social distancing, but there’s also better air circulation, which reduces the spread of germs.
Even when you’re only with your immediate family, getting outside during the holiday season can lift your spirits. It’s a chance to get some healthy exercise and feel a stronger connection with nature — both good ways to combat the double whammy of holiday stress and COVID-19 stress. And there are many outdoor activities to choose from.
10. Check Out Holiday Displays
One low-key way to get yourself into the holiday spirit is to take a walk or drive around town and look at all your neighbors’ holiday lights and decorations. It’s always interesting to see what different spins people put on holiday decorating, from a modest evergreen wreath and a single candle in each window to a massive display with a dozen inflatables. It’s the perfect Christmas Eve activity since everyone who’s putting up decorations should have them in place by then.
For an even more spectacular light show, do an online search for drive-thru light displays in your area. Local parks, fairgrounds, businesses, and even some private homes or neighborhoods put up stunning displays for the public to enjoy. Some require tickets, while others are open to anyone driving by.
To make your holiday explorations more fun, make a game of it. Some ideas include:
- Name the Winner. Vote on your favorite holiday decorations in different categories. For instance, you might name the most tasteful decorations, the most over-the-top, and the funniest.
- I Spy. In this simple game, one person picks something they can see nearby. They say, “I spy with my little eye something that starts with…” and then a letter of the alphabet. Alternatively, you can identify the object with a description, such as, “Something that is red.” The other people in the group then have to ask yes-or-no questions to guess what the object is.
- Christmas Light Bingo. Search online for printable bingo cards with the names of different holiday lights or decorations you might see on display. Examples include “Baby Jesus,” “moving reindeer,” “inflatable Santa,” and “candy canes.” Give each person a different card and mark off things as you see them. The first person to check off five squares in a row is the winner.
11. Go Caroling
One traditional holiday activity it’s easy to do from a distance is Christmas caroling. Go from house to house around your neighborhood, running up to ring the doorbell and then running back to the driveway or front walk. When people come to the door, serenade them with a traditional Christmas carol.
If you invite other families to join your Christmas caroling outing, remember to maintain a safe distance from them too. The New Jersey Department of Health recommends having each family group stay at least 10 feet apart from the others and their listeners. All carolers should wear masks, and the total size of the group shouldn’t exceed the limits for outdoor gatherings in your state. Anyone who isn’t feeling well or has recently traveled to an area with high COVID-19 rates should not take part.
12. Play in the Snow
If you live in an area where there’s always snow at Christmas, don’t pass up an opportunity to play in it. Grown-ups can have just as much fun as kids with activities like building a snowman, making snow angels, or constructing snow forts. You can even team up to take on another family in a snowball fight as long as everyone wears masks and stays at least 6 feet away from anyone who isn’t a fellow household member.
Some more original ideas for fun in the snow include:
- Blowing bubbles and watching them freeze
- Painting the snow with a spray bottle of water tinted with food coloring or Kool-Aid
- Getting out your summertime sand pails and shovels to make snow castles
- Playing tag, soccer, football, baseball, or tug-of-war in the snow, which makes a soft surface to land on
- Creating a snow obstacle course where competitors have to do things like hit a target with a snowball, jump over a snow mound, or make a snow angel
- Playing ice cream shop by scooping up snow with an ice cream scoop. (If it’s clean, you can add some fruit syrup to make real snow cones.)
13. Go Sledding
For a more adventurous way to have fun in the snow, try sledding or snow tubing. These outdoor activities don’t put you at risk for COVID-19 as long as you maintain social distance. However, they do have some hazards of their own, so make sure to follow the safety tips laid out by KidsHealth:
- Use Safe Gear. If you use a sled, choose a steerable one that has brakes. Wear a helmet — preferably one designed for winter sports, but a bike helmet is better than nothing. Wear warm outerwear, but don’t wear a scarf, which can get caught in the runners.
- Pick a Safe Spot. Choose a hill that’s smooth and not too steep with a wide, flat area at the bottom where you can glide to a stop. Avoid hills that end near streets, parking lots, lakes or ponds, trees, fences, or other obstacles.
- Sled Safely. Only go sledding during the daytime. Make sure children under 5 are always with an adult. Always sled facing forward with your feet pointing downhill. And if you somehow find you’re on a sled that won’t stop, roll off it.
14. Hit the Ice
Ice skating is another great outdoor activity for cold weather. In fact, even if it never gets cold enough in your area for lakes and ponds to freeze naturally, you might still be able to find an indoor skating rink that creates its own ice with refrigerated coils.
Like sledding, skating has a few important safety rules. The main one is to go out only on approved ice — either a rink or an officially safe-for-skating-designated frozen lake or pond. Look for signs put up by the police or your local department of recreation or consult your state or county parks department website to find approved skating areas. If certain areas are blocked off, stay within the limits.
Also, make sure your skates fit properly. They need to be snug to support your ankles. According to Inline Warehouse, a properly sized pair of ice skates is typically one to one-and-one-half sizes smaller than your street shoes.
Wear a mask while you’re out on the ice and maintain a 6-foot distance from other skaters. In addition to keeping you and other skaters safer from COVID-19, it also gives you plenty of room to practice snazzy moves like jumps and turns without crashing into anyone.
15. Head to the Drive-In
Drive-in movie theaters, which have been on the decline for years in America, have begun to make a comeback during the pandemic. According to the Los Angeles Times, there are still about 305 drive-ins across the country, and many of them are seeing surges in businesses from stir-crazy customers looking for a safe way to get out of the house.
If your family fits into that category, seeing a film at the drive-in could be an ideal outing. All it takes is a simple Internet search to find a drive-in near you. Many of them are closed in the wintertime, but if the weather in your area stays reasonably warm year-round, there’s a good chance of finding an open one.
16. Have an Outdoor Party
If you’re bummed out about missing your annual holiday party at work or school, there’s still a way to make it happen. As long as the weather isn’t bitterly cold, you can move your party outside, either in your backyard or a public park. All the participants can stay 6 feet apart and masked (except when eating or drinking), bundled up in multiple layers to keep warm. For a little added heat, hold the party around a roaring fire in an outdoor fire pit.
Possible activities for an outdoor Christmas party include:
- Outdoor tree trimming
- Ugly sweater contest (guests can hide their “entries” under their coats until the last minute)
- Secret Santa or white elephant gift exchange
- Hot cocoa bar (with a big pot of cocoa and cups for guests to serve themselves while maintaining social distance)
- Reindeer games, such as distance snowball throwing, antler ring toss, or scavenger hunts
17. Check Out Local Events
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, many individuals and town governments have gone out of their way to create special events where locals can have fun safely. Check your local paper or town website to find socially distanced holiday-themed events in your area, such as:
- Holiday markets
- Art displays
- Outdoor tree lightings
- Holiday movie screenings
Online & Remote Activities
Outdoor gatherings let you get together with friends and family in your local area. Unfortunately, they don’t work for those faraway relatives and friends you usually see only at Christmastime. According to the CDC, holiday travel is a particularly risky activity, so chances are you won’t be able to see these loved ones in person this year.
Fortunately, thanks to the mail and the Internet, you can still share your holiday celebrations with relatives and friends who are far away. You can exchange presents by mail and participate in all kinds of holiday activities online — from visiting Santa to sharing Christmas dinner.
18. Visit Santa Virtually
The holiday tradition of going to the mall and having pictures taken with Santa Claus isn’t really an option this year. Macy’s has already announced that Santa won’t be making his annual appearance at its flagship New York store in 2020. But even if he’s available in your area, stopping by to visit isn’t a good idea. Going to a crowded mall and standing in a long line of people in a confined space is a perfect recipe for spreading germs.
Fortunately, like most businesses these days, Santa is now online. There are several different websites and apps you can use to schedule a video call with good Saint Nick for a modest fee. Options include JingleRing, Mr. Kringle, Video Chat With Santa, and Santa Zoom Visit. Prices range from $20 for a personalized prerecorded video message to $130 for a deluxe package including a personalized invitation, a 20-minute call for up to four children, and a video recording of the entire experience.
19. Send a Gift
Every family has its own gift-giving traditions. Some give gifts to relatives of all ages. Some give big presents to young children and only token gifts to adults, and some do some type of Secret Santa or name drawing so each person only has to shop for one relative. No matter your tradition, there’s a way to make it work remotely.
It’s never been easier to shop online, and that includes shopping for gifts. You can save money by sending presents directly to the recipients so you don’t have to pay for shipping twice. Better yet, don’t pay for shipping at all. Many large online stores, such as Amazon, Target, and Walmart, offer free shipping on all orders over a certain dollar amount or to those with memberships to their services, such as Amazon Prime and Walmart+.
However, you don’t have to limit yourself to what’s available online. If you prefer to support local businesses with your holiday spending, you can wrap and mail your gifts yourself. Choosing smaller or lighter-weight presents helps keep the shipping costs down.
Another option is to make your own gifts. Edible gifts, such as Christmas cookies or candy, are a relatively inexpensive way to show long-distance relatives and friends you’re thinking about them. Sites like Good Housekeeping and Country Living have tons of recipe ideas. Another highly personal option is DIY photo crafts made from family photos, such as jigsaw puzzles, coasters, or magnets.
If your family typically draws names for its gift exchange, you can do that remotely too. Sites like DrawNames and Secret Santa Organizer allow you to draw names online. Some of these sites also provide tools for sharing gift wish lists with the person who draws your name so they don’t get stumped for gift ideas.
20. Open Stockings Remotely
For many people, sending a gift just isn’t the same as being there in person to watch the recipient unwrap it. However, you can enjoy that experience remotely as well. Simply send everyone in the family small presents to stuff their stockings, then open them together via video chat.
If you already have a set of Christmas stockings you hang by the chimney every year, have the keeper of the stockings mail them out to their official owners. If you don’t, each person can pick one up at a party, hobby, or dollar store or make a DIY stocking as a holiday craft project. You can find instructions for several easy DIY stockings at Better Homes and Gardens. Choose or make generously sized stockings so they can hold plenty of presents, even the awkwardly shaped ones.
Once everyone has their stockings, each person should start shopping for stocking stuffers for everyone else. Limiting the size of the gifts also reduces the cost of shipping them, which is a nice bonus. Wrap your presents, label each one with the recipient’s name, and mail them out — one package for each household. As you receive boxes from your relatives, open them up and put the presents where they go, distributing them into the appropriate stockings if there’s more than one household member.
On Christmas morning, connect all your households through Zoom or another videoconferencing app. Then you can open your stockings together and see your relatives’ expressions of delight in real time.
21. Have a Remote Movie Night
Opening gifts is a big part of Christmas for many families, but it’s certainly not the only holiday tradition families share. For many families, snuggling up on the couch to watch holiday movies is also an important part of the season. This year, you can share your annual movie night with faraway relatives by having an online watching party.
For instance, with the Teleparty browser add-on in Chrome, people in different households can simultaneously watch the same video while also chatting together in a sidebar. Teleparty works with Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and HBO streaming services. Another add-on called Scener does one better by letting you choose text, audio, or video chat for your watch party using Netflix, HBO, or Disney. There’s also the Airtime app for iOS and Android, which lets groups of people watch YouTube videos and video chat together on the same screen.
22. Play Board Games Online
Another family-friendly activity to enjoy during the holidays is hanging out and playing board games. While you can’t gather around a table with all your relatives this year, you can still play games together with the help of digital tools like:
- Videoconferencing. Many games require little or no equipment and are easy to play online using software such as Zoom or Google Hangouts. Examples include 20 questions, charades, say the same thing, two truths and a lie, and fictionary. There are also commercial board games you can play online if just one person has a copy of the game. For instance, you can play dice games like Yahtzee with one person rolling the dice for all the other players. You can find more suggestions for games that work well over Zoom on App Pearl and Mr. Boss.
- Houseparty. Video chat app Houseparty comes with its own games built in. They include trivia and Heads Up!, a game in which one player holds a word against their head and other players give clues to help them guess what it says. Up to eight people can play at once.
- Steam. Video game platform Steam has a lot of games you can play cooperatively. You can choose from online games like Quest Hunter or Overcooked and online versions of popular board games, such as Mysterium, Ticket to Ride, and Tabletop Simulator, which includes 15 classic games plus the option to invent your own. The site is free to join, and games typically cost between $5 and $20 per copy. If only one person owns a copy of a game, you can invite others to join using the remote play feature.
- Jackbox Games. This website offers various party games, such as trivia, bluffing, and word games, you can play online with your smartphone. You can buy games individually for $5 to $20 or in party packs. The games are designed to be played by a group of players in one room, but you can play remotely through videoconferencing, Steam, or a service like Discord. Check out the instructions on the Jackbox Games site for details.
- Virtual Tabletops. Some sites, like Board Game Arena and Tabletopia, have various board games programmed for online play. Board Game Arena has over 250 games to choose from, and Tabletopia has more than 1,000. Some games are free, while others require a subscription that costs between $4 and $10 per month.
- Individual Game Sites. Various websites and apps help you play specific games online for a modest fee or even for free. Options include bingo, Catan, Codenames, Dominion, Heads Up!, Pictionary, and Scattergories.
23. Do an Online Escape Room
Live escape rooms are fun any time of year. But at Christmas when you’re spending time with relatives or friends you don’t see often, they’re even better. You and a group of friends are locked in a room and have to work together to solve puzzles to escape. But with real escape rooms closed due to COVID-19, a variety of new virtual ones have opened.
CNET recommends The Escape Game, which offers a choice of four remote adventures for $30 per person. However, there are hundreds of other online options listed on the Escape the Roomers site, including some that are free. One free game suitable for kids is the Hogwarts Digital Escape Room created by a public library in Pennsylvania.
Another way to enjoy an escape room while in different real-life rooms is to pick up a boxed escape game and play it via videoconferencing. There are many brands available, like Exit: the Game and Spin Master Games. You can find recommendations for games at Room Escape Artist.
To play them remotely, just set up a video chat with one extra device pointed directly at the game table so everyone can see. Check out the instructions on No Proscenium for details.
24. Try Online Holiday Karaoke
Unfortunately, one seasonal activity it’s basically impossible to do online is singing Christmas songs together. All video chat apps involve a slight delay, so the voices will always be a bit out of sync.
However, you can do the next best thing and sing holiday song karaoke. Since only one person is singing at a time, the delay isn’t a problem. To have a virtual karaoke party, combine a videoconference meeting with Watch2Gether, a platform that allows viewers in different locations to stream a video simultaneously. You can find detailed instructions on Tom’s Guide and Wired.
25. Stream Your Christmas Dinner
With a little ingenuity, you can even share your Christmas dinner remotely. If each household sets up a laptop on the table with a video call going, family members across the country can chat together as they eat. Or for a larger and clearer view of distant loved ones, connect your laptop to your TV set and eat dinner on the couch.
To make the meal more of a shared experience, consider sharing recipes ahead of the big day. That way, each family can prepare the same holiday menu in their own home. Make sure to include all your family’s traditional holiday recipes so it feels more like you’re sharing your usual Christmas dinner — even if you’re in separate places.
There’s no way around the fact that Christmas in 2020 isn’t going to be the same as it was last year. Online karaoke and socially distanced caroling aren’t the same as a caroling party for the whole neighborhood. Opening stockings together on video chat isn’t the same as opening them together around a crackling fire. And eating the same meal in different places while chatting online isn’t the same as having the whole family seated around one table.
But there’s still a lot to be grateful for. Consider that the last time there was a major pandemic in the U.S., roughly a hundred years ago, people didn’t have the Internet to keep them connected. Most of them didn’t even have phones. Sharing holiday celebrations online may not be as good as celebrating together in person, but it’s still a lot better than having to make do with letters that take days or weeks to arrive.
For this one year, we can make the best of what we have. We can take comfort in being able to spend time with those in our immediate household, meet with friends outdoors, and talk with faraway relatives online. If things are back to normal by next Christmas, we’ll appreciate those big holiday parties all the more for having gone a year without them.