If It’s "Zoom for the Holidays" This Year

Holiday themed videoconference amid decorations on a desk

These days, families have been having some tough conversations about their holiday plans. Some families believe they can safely gather if they take precautions. They might be planning to create family "bubbles" by pledging to quarantine for the recommended amount of time before they get together.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly advises families to ask these questions as they make the decision:

  • Would the setting and duration of the gathering be safe?
  • How many people would be attending?
  • What methods of transportation would guests be taking?
  • Would guests be committed to wearing a mask and proper social distancing?
  • What is the level of COVID-19 in the town of the gathering, and the communities from which guests would be traveling?
  • Would there be vulnerable older guests and those with health conditions that put them at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19?

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci of the National Institutes of Health reminds us that a person can be contagious for several days before symptoms show up. (For the record, Dr. Fauci and his adult children, who are spread out geographically, do not plan to spend their traditional Thanksgiving together.)

Like the Faucis, many families have made the hard decision to skip the traditional in-person gatherings this year. If your family has decided this is for the best, chances are you are planning a virtual celebration to bring everyone together, using Zoom, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime or another video platform. But it's important to remember that older family members may be at a disadvantage in this medium. Here are a few tips:

Well before the holiday, help familiarize your loved one with the platform the family will be using. Assign someone who is in your loved one's bubble or who can safely be in their home to help with setup. Be sure the setup is user-friendly for older adults, and suitable for any vision and hearing impairment your loved one might have. While you're at it, help them adjust their camera—everyone likes to be at their Zoom best!

Provide some test runs ahead of the big event. A few low-pressure chats at your loved one's own pace will build confidence as they become comfortable with this way of communication.

Be aware during the gathering. While telechatting is second nature to many of us by now, new users may be daunted and less likely to confidently jump into a conversation. Keep an eye on how your loved one is doing. Remind other attendees to make spaces in the chat for your loved one. Ask questions, and be patient as your loved one answers.

Adapting holiday traditions for a virtual gathering

Just talking, sharing, catching up and seeing each other's faces will be meaningful. But beyond informal chats, what other activities lend themselves to this format? Here are a dozen ideas for a uniquely 2020 gathering:

  1. Show off your holiday decorations. And if the celebration is usually at Grandma's home, encourage her to put out the traditional centerpiece and special décor.
  2. Have someone dress up as Santa and have a virtual visit with the kids. This could be a great role for Grandpa if he's game!
  3. For New Year's Eve, hold a festive mask contest. How about a mask exchange for a fun, timely gift swap idea?
  4. If everyone is properly distanced, sing holiday songs. Have a talent show. Maybe the younger family members could play their their instruments in unison, just like symphonies are doing these days.
  5. Are board games part of your family's holiday tradition? You can still do it if several people have copies of the game. Or play an online game. This can be great intergenerational fun, and older relatives might come out of the season with a favorite new hobby.
  6. If your family's gift exchange is chaotic like many, slow things down. Grandparents will especially enjoy seeing the children open those presents they so lovingly selected.
  7. If your family has a favorite mail order treat—cookies? oranges? fruitcake?—order for everyone and share during the conversation.
  8. Make a family donation to a good cause. These days, so many people can use our help. If finances permit, give to a charity and share in the spirit of giving.
  9. Have a holiday memories exchange. Everyone can share a memory of holidays past. Then, create a slideshow ahead of time with old holiday photos.
  10. This might be the year to finally create a family health history. Maybe you meant to do so in years past, but things were too hectic? With less time spent on cooking and cleaning, this could be the perfect occasion. (The CDC offers some suggestions here.)
  11. Break up into smaller groups for other events. Those who wish might attend a faith service online. Sports fans can watch a game together. Shopaholics might hit the online sales on Black Friday or the day after Christmas.
  12. Make a memory book of this very unusual holiday season. Have everyone provide photos of their in-person holidays, and include screen captures and videos from the virtual visits.

A note for families whose loved ones live in a skilled nursing facility or assisted living community

If your loved one lives in a senior living community, staff may be able to help, but keep in mind that this is a very busy time. Staff will be working to create special, safe holiday events for residents. It might be better to schedule your virtual family visit a few days before or after the holiday. Or, make it the "Twelve Days of Christmas Calls," with family members scheduling phone calls to keep your loved one feeling included though the season, even as in-person visits aren't feasible.


Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2020 IlluminAge