Considerations for Hosting a Digital Family Reunion This Christmas

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Can’t be with loved ones this holiday season? Don’t despair! Virtual reunions for Christmas can be a great way to get the family together. We all know that planning and surviving an ordinary family reunion can be stressful; combining that with the holidays may seem even more intimidating. But, there are some serious perks to hosting a holiday family reunion digitally. A virtual event keeps everyone home and safe, and it’s an easy and cost-effective way to celebrate. There are also plenty of tools and technologies out there to make virtual get-togethers feasible and fun! Check out these tips for how to host a fabulous virtual family reunion this holiday season.

Choose Your Tools Carefully

It’s important that participants agree on a video conference platform well beforehand. There are numerous tools available for virtual reunions. Here are some platforms worth checking out:

  • Zoom: Free for calls with up to 100 people. PROS: participants can share their screens easily, instant message, and record the call to capture the reunion for those not able to participate. CONS: Some users do report poor, unpredictable video quality. The free option has a 45-minute call limit but the paid plans have monthly billing options so you can cancel whenever you want.

  • Skype: Free service. PROS: features include instant messaging, polling, and screen and document sharing. CONS: while Skype does have good video and audio, some users report that it occasionally freezes up. 

  • GoToMeeting: A bit costly, with 3 different payment plans. PROS: GoToMeeting claims to have the highest resolution video quality and is very user-friendly, with tools like polling and a “Hand-raising” feature that enables hosts to ask questions and get a quick read of the room. CONS: GoToMeeting is billed annually so you can’t try it out for a month and cancel.
In addition to software, don’t forget about your hardware! Participants should consider appropriate hardware for their reunions, such as a large screen which would enable everyone in your home to easily see others as well as a decent webcam and good lighting! 

Make Sure Everyone Is Prepared

Be sure to inform family members about relevant details of the event such as date and time, an itinerary, and necessary software as soon as possible. 

Participants should set up tools needed for the reunion well in advance. In addition to downloading a video conferencing app on their laptops or phones, be sure to let them know about any additional software that might be necessary to run the app. Not confident Uncle Roger will get the hang of Skype? You may want to walk technophobes through any software downloads and do a test call beforehand so they’ll be ready to go for the big event. 

Everyone likes to feel like they’re making a contribution. Give family members a way to participate and help make the reunion more personal by asking for special family recipes, photos to use in a slide show, or even having anecdotes to share about one another.

Delegate Responsibility

You don’t have to be Debbie-Do-It-All when you plan your holiday family reunion. Even for a virtual reunion, it’s very stressful for just one person to coordinate the whole thing. Encourage family members to get involved! Provide a list of potential roles they can take on with responsibilities included. Here’s a sample list of roles to get you started:

  • Host: Oversees the reunion planning, communication, and is the main point of contact for the event.

  • Conversation Coordinator: Helps guide the conversation, mutes participants when necessary, and keeps any scheduled activities on track.

  • IT Support: Helps family members set up and use any software necessary for the reunion. Troubleshoots any technical issues that might arise during the reunion.

  • Game Creator: Brainstorms fun activities for participants, irons out the logistics, and moderates games.

  • Photo Compiler: Reaches out to family members for pictures and puts together a slideshow or digital photo album to share with participants.

Create a Schedule

Once a date and time for the event have been decided, you should also schedule preparation deadlines for participants to complete certain tasks, like install and test their video conferencing software, compile and submit family photos, and set up anything needed for games or activities. These deadlines will ensure everyone is on track for a successful event. 

In addition to preparation deadlines, you should also set up an overall schedule for the reunion itself that includes time slots for various activities. This way, everyone will be on the same page and understand what’s expected of them (facilitators will know when to facilitate, and participants will know when to participate). Be sure to send out the schedule at least a week before the reunion. Consider sending out a digital invitation so everyone has access to the important details. 

Choose Fun Activities

Fun activities are key to keeping people engaged during a digital family reunion. Although you might need to get a bit creative when you plan virtual activities, it’s well worth the time and effort. Here are some ideas for activities for your holiday reunion: 

  • Holiday ecards: One fun activity may be to create holiday ecards to send to each other. Find your favorite Christmas or Holiday card, personalize with a special message, add a photo, and send from your phone in minutes! 

  • Virtual scavenger hunts: This involves searching for items that are in your home in a specified amount of time. The most important thing to prepare for this activity is the actual scavenger hunt list. When creating the list, make sure that it includes everyday items people will actually have in their homes. 
Before the hunt begins, set rules for everyone to follow and explain them. A few examples of rules include time restraints and how the winner will be determined. One way to run a virtual scavenger hunt is to have participants take a photo of all the items they gathered and share it with the group. The first one to submit a photo with all the scavenger hunt items wins!

  • Contests: Keep family members engaged with a fun contest. For any contest, be sure to designate a few judges to determine winners. Some ideas for contests include a talent show where performances are under 30 seconds or a photo caption contest where people submit a funny family picture before the reunion and those who come up with the best or silliest caption for the photo win. An Ugly Sweater contest is also a festive and appropriate holiday-themed activity for your reunion. Have family members display their most hideous holiday sweater and award a prize based on judges’ or guests’ votes for the most outrageous outfit. 

  • Trivia: This activity gives everyone the opportunity to test their knowledge and enjoy a little friendly competition.To ensure that everyone gets involved, set up trivia questions that fall into several different categories such as news, sports, entertainment, politics, “personal” or family-related, and a general grab bag. Each household will count as one team and should come up with a fun team name. A  game moderator should read trivia questions aloud and display a Powerpoint of each question through the document sharing feature in the video platform you choose. Teams should be given a few minutes to deliberate and record their answers. At the end of the game, teams can send their answers to the moderator who will determine the final scores and award the winning team a prize! 

  • Open Gifts: The holidays wouldn’t be the same without gifts. A virtual family reunion is the perfect opportunity to take turns opening presents (especially for any kiddos!). If you have the time and bandwidth, you can organize a Secret Santa Gift Exchange. First, set a dollar limit for the total amount of each gift beforehand. Next, designate a Gift Exchange Manager to randomly pair each participant with a family member. The Manager can email each participant the person they are paired up with and participants can order a gift online and have it sent to the recipient. On the day of the reunion, everyone can open their gifts one at a time and discover their Secret Santa!

Set Boundaries

It’s important that everyone agrees upon some rules and guidelines before your virtual holiday reunion to make sure the event runs smoothly. Here are some rules you should consider:

  • Noise: Background noise and people talking over one another are real problems during a video call, especially if you have 20+ people participating! To eliminate these issues, set some rules around people muting themselves unless they’re talking and designate a Conversation Coordinator to help guide the conversation, fill in any awkward silences, and make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak.  

  • Family-Friendly Language & Attire: Appropriate language and attire should also be considered in your rules. While it’s unlikely anyone will swear like a drunken sailor or wear a t-shirt with an inappropriate picture or slogan, it’s a good idea to communicate what’s expected of everyone beforehand (especially if there will be children participating!). 

  • Your Environment: Be sure to communicate to participants that they should be aware of their surroundings when doing a video call. Participants should not see any inappropriate posters or artwork, and they definitely don’t want to see Aunt Martha stepping out of the shower in the background. It’s also important to tell family members to set up their devices in a quiet and appropriate lit room, void of distractions. 
Although planning a virtual family reunion might seem overwhelming, it’s definitely worth the time and effort. The holidays are all about family and a digital reunion is the perfect way to get people together even though they have to be apart!

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