You’d have thought we’d all be pretty good at coping with restrictions on our daily lives by now.
But there’s something about Christmas Day that makes it particularly tough to get through without friends, family or even a familiar face.
While technology can never be a true substitute for human connection, there are several tools available to make the next few days less lonely than they would otherwise be.
Many of them have come to prominence over the course of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic took hold and we all had to learn new ways of communicating.
Gaming, video-conferencing and streaming may not seem like a traditional Christmas plan but with a bit of planning, it could stop us from feeling cut off from each other during the festive holidays.
Here are some handy tips to make the most of technology over Christmas.
How to Zoom – from creating an account to setting up a meeting
Zoom has announced it will be dropping the 40-minute cap on video calls for Christmas Day. This means anyone with a free account will have unlimited usage of the software for December 25.
This, coupled with Zoom’s ubiquity and ease-of-use makes it a great way to still see and talk to family and friends even if you can’t be together.
Like other video conferencing software, Zoom provides 256-bit encryption on any transmission which means you can be confident your meeting – and any documents shared within it – stays safe.
Thankfully, setting up and making a Zoom call couldn’t be easier. If you’re planning to start the meeting, you’ll be the dedicated host of the call and the one with a few extra privileges.
Firstly, load up the Zoom website and app and make sure you’re logged in. Click on the ‘New Meeting’ option and then the ‘Start With Video’ button.
Zooom will generate a link that you can share with other people to invite them into the meeting.
If you’re a recipient, all you have to do is click on the link to be taken directly into the meeting – providing you’re set up with your own Zoom account.
You can choose to join a call with either audio only or video, using the webcam on your laptop or phone.
A word of caution on Zoom: many people can experience Zoom fatigue so it’s an idea to keep video calls relatively short so that it doesn’t become a burden.
How to play online games together
It’s not quite gathering round in front of the fire for charades, town and country or a heated game of Monopoly, but there are digital alternatives for Christmas gaming.
Casual smartphone games like Among Us allow between 4 and 10 people to play together either online or over Wi-Fi. Players have to work out which member of the group is an impostor on a space ship.
There are a number of different ways that you can add your friends to your Among Us game.
In order to start a game, select Online in the main menu, add your name to the top and you’ll be given a series of game options – either ‘Host’, ‘Public’ or ‘Private’.
If you select the Host option then you’ll be in control of who joins your game, and whether you want to add your friends to the game or just play with random people.
You’ll subsequently be taken to the lobby area of the game, where you can choose whether to play a public or private game.
In the case of the former, expect to be joined by a bunch of random players – but if you want to play a game with your friends then choose Private, and then share the code you are given at the bottom of the screen with them.
They can then add this code to the Private section of the menu on their phone or PC to join the game you’ve set up.
Alternatively, games like Jackbox allow other players to join remotely via their smartphones. One person will have to ‘host’ the game and have it installed on either a PlayStation, Xbox or PC. There are a range of different games, from doodling to fill in the blanks, that can lead to some hilarious suggestions.
How to entertain the kids with Google’s ‘Santa’s Village’
If you want some Christmas-themed activities for the kids, then Google’s interactive Santa’s Village is hard to beat.
The tech giant launches it’s browser-based platform every December and it contains games, puzzles and educational tasks to keep kids entertained. It culminates in Google’s annual Santa Tracker on Christmas Eve that tracks Father Christmas in Google Maps as he travels around delivering presents.
On the 24th December, Santa will share his location on Google Maps so people can trace his travels as he navigates the globe.
All you need to is click through to the Santa Tracker dashboard or in the Santa Tracker Android App, as Kris Kringle visits every country and 419 different locations over the course of 25 hours, including the ruins of the ancient city of Myra, Turkey, where the legendary St. Nicholas was the bishop; Rovaniemi, Finland, which many consider to be the ‘home of Santa Claus;’.
How to watch Christmas movies together using Netflix Party
It’ll be hard for families to gather round and watch a film together on Christmas Day or Boxing Day when we’re not allowed in each other’s houses.
But there’s a handy application called Netflix Party that lets you join together with others to watch Netflix together.
Netflix Party is free to use and is pretty easy to set up – as it’s just a case of adding a Google Chrome extension to your computer.
Once you’ve set it up, you can start watching any Netflix film or show and click on the Netflix Party button to create a Netflix Party.
This will then give you a link to the event you’ve created – and all you have to do is share that with the friends you want to watch with.
It also offers a chatroom, to allow your chosen viewers to talk about what they’re watching, while they’re watching it.
The short answer is no, as the extension only works on Chrome on desktop or laptop computers.
However you can join the party from other devices, such as tablets or your phone, if someone else sends you an invite.
How to ‘film’ reindeer visiting your house to show the kids on Christmas morning
Back by popular demand, the McDonald’s Reindeer Ready website has landed, which gives parents a chance to ‘film’ one of Father Christmas’ reindeer eating carrots in their house.
The tool has proved popular with parents in previous years. Users simply need to visit the website on their phone or tablet, choose ‘Reindeer Live’ and click ‘Get Started.’
It will then ask an individual to take a picture of their living room and the website will do the rest. Using the photo that’s uploaded, the site will add a video of a reindeer eating some carrots in the familiar setting.
Parents can then save the footage on their phones, ready to show their kids on Christmas morning.
If you and your family have left carrots out for Rudolph, it’s probably a good idea to get them out the picture as the website adds its own carrots for the digital reindeer to eat.
It’s worth pointing out that the website can sometimes get incredibly busy and slow on Christmas Eve, so it’s probably best to plan ahead of time and take and save the video beforehand.
How to speak with Santa virtually this Christmas
No year is complete without the joy that comes with kids meeting Father Christmas, though, so let’s not make a chat with Santa another thing you have to sacrifice in 2020.
Luckily, WiFi does reach the North Pole so here’s how you can set up a virtual call with Father Christmas…
They say necessity is the mother of invention, and one company which is testament to this is Santascallingyou.co.uk.
The service was set up by actor James Bartlett who spotted a gap in the market for actors and others who lost work in the pandemic, who could help keep some Christmas magic.
The website allows you to set up calls with Santa, Mrs Claus, one of his elves and a ‘Santa Story Time’ option. Prices start from £19.99.
Other providers of similar services include Santa’s Lapland, which would normally organise trips to meet Santa in a suitably seasonal setting.
On their website for the video service, a message from Santa reads: ‘It’s no secret that Christmas is my favourite time of year. I spend all year getting excited to welcome you to my home in Lapland and December never lasts long enough. But this year we all have to stay a safe distance apart, so I’m hoping families will welcome me into their homes, by the magic of video instead.
‘I’m not the best with technology, I prefer magic reindeer dust, but my clever little helpers have been busy setting up a way to talk with me online, so I can still help make your Christmas wishes come true from afar.’
Prices for Santa’s Lapland start from £85.