Great Ways to Socialize Remotely: Holiday Edition
by Adam Sharp
Disappointed that Krampus, the mythical half-goat, half-demon won’t be coming to punish the neighborhood children this holiday season because of social distancing restrictions? Fortunately, there are still ways to embrace the yuletide spirit without the presence of that nightmarish beast. Below you’ll find Circles’ own Naughty and Nice List (emphasis on “Nice”) of ways to celebrate your favorite holidays remotely.
Virtual Gingerbread House Competition
Creating a scale model of your future dream home out of gingerbread cookies, icing, and candy is a great way to show off your architectural prowess around the holidays. And if you want to take it up a notch, test your mad skills with Circles friends by holding a virtual gingerbread house competition.
The origins of gingerbread houses can be found in 16-Century Germany, so it isn’t just a holiday tradition, but one that’s rooted in Deutsche culture. They can range from being simple candy cottages Hansel and Gretel would love to munch on to elaborate masterpieces that rival the Berliner Dom.
In order to prepare for head-to-head gingerbread house making contests, be sure everyone involved picks up the previously mentioned supplies ahead of time. You can bake together remotely to make gingerbread cookies from scratch or you can pick up a gingerbread house kit filled with everything you need. Just be sure you have royal icing versus buttercream frosting to use as mortar because royal icing will harden once dry.
You can also assign themes for your housing projects or have a free-for-all so everyone can make whatever their holiday spirit desires. However you choose to run your competition, making gingerbread houses keeps your virtual holiday parties active, entertaining, and gives you a tasty treat—that is, if you don’t leave it sitting out for several weeks.
Open Presents Together
December gift-giving celebrations have been a time-honored tradition that goes as far back as the ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia. Over the centuries, this pagan custom has evolved into many forms and today can be seen most prominently in Judeo-Christian festivities. And now, thanks to 21st Century tech, you can still keep the tradition alive via live video streaming.
Opening a gift is pretty self-explanatory, so I won’t go into details on how to properly wrap and open a present—except for a certain mother who uses WAY too much tape. Love you, mom. Anyway, even though group gatherings are considered a no-no these days, you can still keep the holiday tradition alive by hook up with people online and open gifts together as a group. You can even turn opening presents into a game, such as…
Twenty Questions: Guess the Gift
Admit it. When you were a kid this time of year you’d find a wrapped present with your name on it and try to figure out what was inside. Combine this childhood sleuthing with the game of 20 Questions over Zoom and you’ve got yourself a virtual holiday party activity.
For those who are unfamiliar with the game of 20 Questions, the idea is to have a person within a group choose a subject, typically an object, and everyone else takes turns asking questions in order to figure out what that mystery object is. The catch is that you only have 20 tries to ask “yes” or “no” questions, hence the title of the game. Sample questions could be things like: “Is it edible?” or “Is it bigger than a cat?” Whoever guesses the correct answer gets to choose the topic for the next round.
As for making it holiday-themed, there are a couple of ways you could play this. You could have the answerer play a typical game of 20 Questions, but keep the object in question based on a particular holiday, or you choose presents you’ve wrapped yourself and have your remote party attendees guess what it is based on size, shape, and/or sound. To throw people off, you can wrap the presents in a way that deceives players on what your gift actually looks like.
And if you want to combine this with other party activities, you could also have an…
Ugly Sweater Party
Ugly sweaters have haunted the holidays since they became popularized in the 1950s. At the time, no one was in on the joke of how horrible many of these sweaters actually looked, but over the last couple of decades, this tradition has been re-appropriated and is now embraced and even flaunted for its tackiness—hence, the birth of the ugly sweater party.
The basic idea for ugly sweater parties is to host a get-together where people wear the most god-awful holiday-themed sweater they can find. They’re not only a great way to liven up a video call, but helps get everyone in the holiday spirit. To get the party really cooking, hold an ugly sweater fashion show where everyone has to stand up and strut their stuff on an imaginary runway to show off their sweater. You could also have a contest where everyone votes on their favorite ugly sweater in such categories as “best pop culture reference,” “sweaters my 2nd Grade teachers wore,” “funniest,” and of course, “most hideous.” Zoom has polling options you could use to conduct your vote or you could also use platforms such as Google Forms.
If you’re on Zoom, you could enhance the ugly-swear experience even more by selecting an equally terrible looking background to pixelate around you. While Zoom has a selection of backgrounds from which you can choose, it also gives you the option to upload customized backgrounds, so you can really set the mood with digitized holiday decors like Christmas trees, Santa Claus (or Krampus), or winter wonderlands.
And don’t forget to take photos of everyone!
Holiday Recipes Cookbook
Food is a staple for holiday celebrations this time of year. Some are family recipes, such as casseroles and pies, while others are season-specific like fruitcakes (which a lot of people hate) and latkes. But even more important, is that these festive foods are intended for sharing. While lockdowns might keep us apart, a way to give your friends a taste of your favorite holiday meals is by creating a joint holiday-themed cookbook.
In order to create a holiday cookbook, all you have to do is collect a favorite recipe(s) from your friends. Once you’ve collected instructions on how to make everyone’s meals, you can print out and bind your recipes into a physical cookbook or you could keep it digital by putting them into a PDF, upload them online onto a shared Google Drive document, or even making a Pinterest Page. To give your cookbook some flair, be sure and add pictures of the step-by-step process as well as the finished product. To get a better understanding of why your friends chose the meals that they did, have your contributors write a brief testimonial as to why they chose their particular recipe. And if you really want to take it up a notch, host a virtual holiday dinner party to cook one or more of these meals together as a group.
Whether you’re going on a remote date or accepting a video chat invitation with a new Circles friend, many of us find that getting to know new people can be a bit nerve-racking. And with virtual holiday parties abound, busting out a list of holiday-themed icebreaker questions is a perfect way for guests to get to know one another.
Icebreakers are a list of get-to-know-you questions that help get conversations rolling. While it may not seem as organic as having a conversation, a benefit of icebreakers is that they help people get out of their comfort zone as well as build community with people who discover they share common backgrounds, passions, and interests.
Need some holiday icebreaker ideas? Then check out this list of questions to get the ball rolling:
- What holiday present did you REALLY want as a child but never receive?
- What is your most vivid holiday memory?
- If you could travel anywhere for the holidays, where would you go and why?
- What is your favorite (or least favorite) holiday song?
- What is your favorite (or least favorite) holiday movie?
- What is your favorite holiday food?
- If you could ask Santa for anything, what would it be?
- What is the craziest present you’ve ever received?
- What have you done that might land you on the naughty list?
- What have you done might land you on the nice list?
Resolution Round Robin
For many of us, the start of the new year also symbolizes a chance at a fresh start, so we commit ourselves to resolutions that will improve our lives, such as losing weight and getting organized. But even if we do fall off the resolution wagon, taking turns revealing your goals with others at New Year’s Eve parties can help you connect with people who also share common interests. And if you do find like-minded people with similar resolutions, you could even partner up and help keep each other stay accountable throughout the year until you reach your goal(s).
You could also make your resolution reveal a game by playing “Guess the Resolution.” To play, have guests send you one or more resolutions they’re making for the new year before the party starts, and then create a spreadsheet listing everyone’s responses, so people can try to guess and match who made the resolution. If you want to make the game a little more challenging, add phony resolutions to see who can figure out which ones are real and which ones are fake. And who knows, maybe hearing other people’s New Year’s resolution will inspire you to embrace one or more for yourself.
Dramatic Holiday Readings
If you consider yourself a skilled orator, then maybe it’s time to put that talent to the test and go all Charles Dickens on your friends and family by giving dramatic readings of your favorite holiday stories.
Whether you’re reciting passages of works of fiction or nonfiction, stories have a way of bringing people together in a shared bonding experience that often teaches us lessons about life, the world, and ourselves. Holiday stories are frequently passed down through the generations and are often a reflection of a person’s cultural heritage. And with many of these tales having stood the test of time, this also makes them ideal for taking on the digital world as well.
For a dramatic reading night, you and your fellow ugly sweater party guest can assign one person to read classic takes such as The Night Before Christmas or How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or you could each take turns reading selections of your favorite works. Recitations can be taken seriously or with a comedic flare depending on your group. But you don’t have to limit your readings to hardcover books. You could also perform a staged reading on favorite holiday films like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Elf, and Bad Santa.
And speaking of movies…
Co-Viewing Classic Holiday Movies
Watching classic holiday movies is a favorite pastime during the month of December, and thanks to online co-viewing options, you can keep that tradition alive. Whether you're watching It’s a Wonderful Life or Die Hard (yes, it’s totally a Christmas movie), holiday films capture that special heartwarming zeitgeist of the season that can tap into nostalgia and revives happy memories. Many find holiday films inspiring by helping give people that spark they need to get through hard times. And just as equally important, they bring people together, build memories, and can help you grow closer with friends.
Setting all the mushy good times feelings aside, co-viewing holiday films is also a great way to make fun of movies you’ve seen more times than you care to admit by providing a live “commentary track” of ridicule and shame. And there are some REALLY BAD holiday movies out there that deserve it, for instance: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Jingle All the Way, the Star Wars Holiday Special, or Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Another way to turn terrible films into comedic gold is for you and your friends to play the film dubbed game, where you simply turn your movie on mute and provide the dialogue for the actors. This game also works well if you know these traditional holiday movies like the back of your hand from watching them dozens of times with your family.
So if you’re looking for holiday inspiration or a chance to relentlessly mock a cinematic bomb, holiday co-viewing parties are a definite way to go.