Getting together with the family is one of the best things about Christmas.
Each family has their own traditions that make everyone groan every Christmas, but secretly we love them and look forward to them throughout the year.
This year is a little bit different, of course, with many of us not being able to spend it with our families. This will be hard for all of us, but especially for international teachers abroad in a different country.
However, there are plenty of ways to feel close to the family while being apart so you can end this strange year with the same sense of connection and family togetherness that always makes Christmas so special. Here are some ideas:
1. Online experiences
Why not sign up for an online experience? There are lots out there that are a fun and provide unique ways to create memories.
For example, I recently arranged an online cooking class with an AirBnB host that I and my family all joined, and it was great fun.
We organised a date and time, and all joined up as a family on Zoom, and cooked together following the instructor. For two hours, we made different recipes and created a dinner together virtually. We took pictures as we went and shared them as group messages.
There are many other options out there – online escape rooms or murder mysteries. Or, of course, you could host a good old-fashioned online quiz.
2. Dine together digitally
If you take part in an online cooking class, the fun does not have to stop when the cooking does. Set up a call afterwards and continue the excitement by eating the food together, too.
You don’t even need to have done a cooking class first – you could simply agree to video call together while you’re having dinner – you could agree to cook the same thing beforehand or simply enjoy the sense of being together for lunch or dinner – you could even try pulling a virtual cracker.
If the time difference is big, there are always plenty of Christmas dinner leftovers to be enjoyed while your far-away family has their breakfast or vice versa. It might make for amusing conversation, too.
3. Popcorn time
There are so many Christmas movies out there. The heartwarming, the cheesy, the romantic, the funny…and you can still watch them together as a family. Schedule a time that works and get on a call. Queue up your movie on whatever you use to stream and watch it at the same time: 3, 2, 1, play!
Doing it this way means you can experience all the action, adventure, tears and laughter at the same time, and then chat afterwards about what you enjoyed, correct plot misunderstandings and finally work out where you’d seen that actor before.
It may take a bit of sound production to avoid any audio confusion but it’s very easy to organise, really.
4. Family music sharing
Start a Christmas playlist and share it with the family so they can add some of their own. I would start with a couple of tracks rather than all the ones you can think of, so everyone has a chance to build up the list with their favourite festive tunes.
Before you know it, you’ll be listening to an eclectic mix of Christmas – and no doubt non-Christmas – hits from all around the world. It might be a great way to get to know the youngsters in your family, too, and their current musical “tastes”.
5. Plan your next visit
It may make you feel a bit sad but spending time planning what you will do the next time you can get together in person could also prove an uplifting experience and give everyone something to look forward to.
I have already started thinking about a list of ideas for the next time my parents will be able to visit New York and, on our Christmas morning call, we will discuss all this – the sites we will see and the places to visit – it will almost feel like a present to know we will be doing that soon and together again.
I have found that a good way to deal with being apart is to have planned excitement to look forward to.
Some of these ideas may take a little bit of preparation but it is certainly worth it for the memories they create.
After all, Christmas is about tradition and, while this year’s may not be quite as traditional as we would like, we can still make a special event, wherever we are in the world.
Matt Payne is head of lower school at Nord Anglia International School New York