We should probably get this out of the way first: a virtual holiday party isn’t going to be the same. It’s just not. It can be pretty demoralizing to hear people talk about the upcoming holiday season like there are ways to make it just as good as seeing your friends or family in person. We’re living through a pandemic, and we have to make sacrifices.
But, if you acknowledge that virtual gatherings are just another weird byproduct of a very bad year, rather than a substitute for an actual party, they become a lot more manageable. And there are actually ways to make them fun, for what they are. And one added bonus: you don’t have to worry about getting home in the cold after one too many eggnogs.
Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning on throwing a virtual holiday party. (They might also be useful if you plan on attending one, too.)
Keep the number low
Think about all the Zoom meetings or get-togethers you’ve been on over the last nine months. How many of them involved the endless loop of people talking over each other, asking someone to repeat themselves, and then missing their answer because someone else was talking, ad nauseam?
To avoid that chaos, keep the number of people low — ideally no higher than ten. Maybe this is the year for several small virtual get-togethers, rather than one big one.
If this isn’t an option — because it’s a work party, or if you have a huge family — breakout rooms are your friend here. Lots of video chat services let you start smaller chats within a big one, which can help contain the chaos.
Set a time limit
One awkward part of virtual get-togethers is that people don’t always know when they’re over. Setting an end time in your meeting invitation is a good way to give people an out. That way, people who want to stay on have the option to, but everyone else is able to leave guilt-free.
Choose an activity
Because chatting and socializing just can’t happen in the same way online as in person, get-togethers based on doing something together will likely be a popular choice this year. Wreath-making or decorating a gingerbread house are fun seasonal choices, or you can opt for something like cooking or wine-tasting.
There are lots of simple things you can do to make your own little video box more festive. You can change your video background to something winter-y, or a still from your favourite Christmas movie, or a holiday picture from when you were a kid. If you have holly or tinsel or other decorations lying around, arrange them behind where you’ll be sitting. You can even print out free Christmas-y photobooth props.
You don’t have to ditch Secret Santa
Secret Santa actually lends itself really well to the online format. People can exchange gift cards or vouchers that can be used online, for instance. Or people can send cards or cookies or small gifts in the mail, and open them on the video chat.
Consider hiring entertainment
If you have the budget, hiring a local entertainer can be a great way to give your guests a memorable experience and support artists who could likely use the business. Musicians, comedians, drag queens, dancers or other performers can put on a great show online, and giving your guests something to watch together — even from their own homes — can create the kind of shared experience that’s been so rare in 2020.
Dress up, if you want to
If you prefer to party in your sweatpants, more power to you! But if you miss leaving your house and actually having something to do, it can feel really good to have something to look forward to, and to dress up every now and then.
Also: remember that people an ugly Christmas sweater and/or Santa hat are always appreciated.
Coordinate drinks and snacks
Circulating a recipe for a cocktail or simple hors d’oeuvres can create another shared experience for your guests. Or, if you have the budget, you can consider sending your guests food from local restaurants, which will be happy for the business these days.
It’s also worth remembering that snacks probably work much better than a sit-down meal here. Watching other people eat isn’t everyone’s thing.
And whatever you’re drinking, don’t forget to make a toast — perhaps to how exciting it will be when, with any luck, we can all go back to regular holiday parties next year.