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6 ways to stay social in a socially-distanced holiday season

Image of Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacaction
Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is famous for a lot of bad ideas. We have a few decidedly safer options for a holiday season during the coronavirus pandemic. (Screenshot courtesy YouTube)

Use Zoom and your imagination to spend time with family and friends

Imagine if the Griswolds of National Lampoon fame were stuck at home in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clark might be on the roof again, stringing up 10,000 holiday lights – old energy-hogging incandescents, no doubt – falling off the roof, breaking a leg, then crafting a homemade cast (mistakenly making it out of fettuccine alfredo) rather than run the risk of going to the hospital. Frustrated that the kids are on their smartphones all day, Clark would enlist them to upgrade the insulation in the attic, opting for bags of kitty litter that looks a lot like the vermiculite insulation in the home he grew up in.

There are better ways to save energy at home, and better ways to spend your holiday time during a pandemic lockdown. See six ideas below, and don't miss out on our Holiday Countdown Calendar contest, where you can enter every day of December for a chance to win a weekly prize, including Instant Pots and gift cards, and our grand prize package, valued at $1,200.

Image of a family eating dinner and meeting remotely
Sharing a dinner on Zoom or Skype is one way to share the joy of the holiday season with friends and family during the coronavirus pandemic. You can even cook the same menu.

Share a meal on Zoom, all from the same menu

If you can't visit due to COVID-19 restrictions, come up with an easy-to-replicate menu everyone can prep, then share dinner remotely via a Dr. Bonnie Henry-approved distanced dinner shared on Zoom or Skype. If you live in the same area and want to share in the cooking, consider a potluck exchange by splitting the menu prep then driving to another home or two to make the exchange.

Challenge the kids to come up with marvellous new drink recipes, then vote to see which one tastes best. Ditto for the adults, who can do a tasting of a few different beers, wines or cocktails.

Take a break after dinner, clean up the kitchen, then...

Image of Among Us game
The online multi-player game Among Us, all about completing tasks to return a spaceship to Earth while avoiding a murderous impostor who's also aboard, is all the rage among the under-30 crowd.

Play a board game or a multi-player game online

If you have teens in your home, they've probably played Among Us, the runaway online multiplayer game of the current pandemic era. Played among a group of people you know, or in a public game, Among Us dumps four to 10 players into a spaceship, sky headquarters or planet base with the goal of returning a ship to earth, but with a shape-shifting imposter intent on slaying everyone aboard.

For a treasure chest of online games that involve everything from trivia to doodling to joke-telling, try JackBox Games, in which a host purchases a single game or a multi-game pack and shares the games with others. There are also virtual escape room games, and Tabletopia, which skews toward more traditional board games played online. And if you're a fan of crosswords, and you or a friend has a New Yorker subscription, try solving one or two in the New Yorker's dead-easy partner mode.

Image of Netflix program on the Teleparty app
Teleparty (formerly Netflix Party) allows you to share a show on Netflix so you can watch, and take breaks, at exactly the same time in different households.

Try a virtual movie night

Why does the popcorn in the cinema taste better than the superior stuff you make at home? For some of us, going with friends to the movie theatre is one of the things we miss most during the pandemic. And with increased lockdowns, many of us can't even have friends or family over for a viewing party at home.

Enter the virtual movie night, which can be done a few different ways.

  • You can sync anything on Netflix through the Teleparty (formerly Netflix Party), which you can add as an extension to your Chrome browser so that the show you're watching stops (for everyone in the party) when paused for a food or bathroom break. There's also a chat option so that you can comment on the show or discuss during a break, although your own preferred chat option is probably easier and won't suffer from lag.
  • Another option is to schedule a Zoom meeting and share your streaming content from your screen (Netflix, Prime Video, HBO, etc.) This provides the luxury of not everyone on the call needing to subscribe to the service you're screening.
  • And if you're more worried about screen quality and prefer to watch it on your big screen TV, you can watch a show or movie at roughly the same time, then share a Zoom call to discuss it after. Ideal for a binge watch of a fun series riddled with plot twists. Or to help decompress when viewing Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones.

Looking for movie ideas for the holiday season? Start with our holiday streaming list, which includes Rotten Tomatoes-approved seasonal and non-seasonal options.

Image of women snowshoeing
Pack a lunch and head out for some local snowshoeing, or a hike, which offers a chance to escape the home and socialize – at a distance – with family and friends.

Meet for a socially-distanced hike, bike, or snowshoe adventure

Remember that the door to the great outdoors is still open. Meet friends or family somewhere where you can walk, hike, or snowshoe, or just hang around a park while maintaining that critical two-metre social distance. If you're lucky enough to find a frozen pond, skate together and consider bringing a few sticks and pucks for some long passes or (does someone have goalie gear or a shooter tutor?) a penalty shot competition.still opens

Another option: discuss on Zoom an exercise challenge that friends or family can share. It could be a step challenge, a weekly run length, pushups or planks. Or consider meeting up for a weekly virtual exercise class.

Here are some helpful tips and ideas for sharing workouts or fitness challenges.

Image of children's art book
A woman from Vancouver used art drawn by her young niece in Ontario to create a kids storybook. The whole idea started with a Zoom call between the two families, with the niece proudly displaying her drawings.

Launch a family project: art, photo book, donations

Use a Zoom call to gather ideas for a project with family or friends. Use your imagination to come up with the likes of...

  • A shared photo book, with contributions from everyone and a printed copy of the book ordered for each family.
  • A 2021 calendar featuring family photos, perhaps with a seasonal theme.
  • A children's picture book using kids' art from the family.
  • A family donation by creating a 'team' on a virtual food bank donation website, such as this Greater Vancouver Food Bank site.
Image of R.J Palacio's book, "Wonder"
It's easy to take your book club online, and you may want to extend it to a family event by choosing a book everyone can enjoy.

Start an online book club, and maybe make it family-friendly

More time at home means lots of time for reading. There's nothing quite like the conversations that arise from an interesting book. And half the fun is choosing the book, something you can do on an initial Zoom call.

Kids and teen literature have come a long way, too. Consider involving family and friends of various ages to join in, and maybe even start by reading that novel or short story one of the teens is reading at school. It may be time to re-read Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, or Charlotte's Web, or to read more recent books such as Wonder, I am Malala, Hoot, or The Hunger Games.