As military families, the thought of spending the holidays without the company of our extended family isn’t new. Unfortunately, traveling home often comes with high costs, a lot of travel or not enough leave days allotted. Over the years, we’ve become pros at connecting with our family members far and wide, so much so that when the pandemic hit, we knew how to adapt.
This holiday season will be no different. With the development of technology and the increase of tools to bolster human connection, we’ve put together a list of the best tips and gifts to keep that family connection alive, no matter if you’re six feet apart or a thousand miles.
Tips to foster connections over the holidays during a pandemic
Flat Stanley, Holiday Style
Remember the old days of Flat Stanley in elementary school? A hand-cut, scribbled upon a paper doll that we carried for a week, taking pictures and then sharing his adventures with the class? This holiday season, we propose bringing back Flat Stanley, but holiday style. Repurpose your Elf on the Shelf (parents, this is a great time to finagle your way out of moving the elf each night – you’re welcome) and bring him on each holiday adventure, snapping photos and sharing with your family members. Your child will connect the Elf with your family from afar, remembering the importance of including them in your holiday traditions. Holiday books read by the fire, Christmas tree lightings, light shows and Santa sightings become the perfect memory-making moments to share with the family, making them feel included through the use of a stand-in Elf.
The holidays are an intimate time. It’s a time when we would normally gather with family that we haven’t seen in months, catching up and sharing stories from the past year. It’s literal face time that we need to connect with the ones we love. Though this year may be different, we can still get that intimacy through the use of a family photo album app, like FamilyAlbum. Unlike social media, only those closest to you have access to your shared photos. Not only can you document your holiday, but your family members can also upload their personal photos to this shared family photo album app. Family members can react, comment and hold conversations. After the holidays are over, turn your photos into a beautiful album (another option with FamilyAlbum!), and even though you were not all physically together, you were all together in spirit.
Zoom gift exchange
By now, we’ve all become accustomed to Zoom. Book clubs, girls’ night and family gatherings have made no exceptions during this trying time. With a little preplanning, a family gift exchange can still happen. Divvy out names using an automatic name generator, such as Elfster.com, shop online, ship a gift to your recipients and plan a scheduled Zoom gathering where everyone opens their gift together. With the help of Elfster.com, secret Santa and white elephant gift exchanges over Zoom are still a fun way to celebrate the holidays from a distance.
Family recipe swap
Arguably, the best part of the holiday season is the food. Part of ‘going home’, as we say in the military, is being treated to the foods you know and love from childhood. It’s grandma’s apple pie and your mother’s oven-roasted turkey. Or, it’s cookies from your favorite hometown bakery. Whatever it is that draws you home every holiday season, keep the traditions alive this year with a family recipe swap. Jot down your favorite holiday dish and exchange it with your family members. Then on the day of your family dinner, make each family member’s recipes so that everyone is represented at your table when you sit down to eat. You’ll laugh, or maybe even cry, trying your aunt’s beloved sweet potato casserole made by your own hand. Delicious or not, your immediate family will enjoy reminiscing on each family member as they make their way through each dish.
Online game night
With the advancement of technology, we have benefitted greatly as military families when it comes to maintaining a connection with family and friends. Our kids no longer have to say goodbye to good friends that move away, but instead keep in touch daily through Facetime, text messages, Messenger and online gaming – a favorite among many. Online gaming is also a great way to gather the family near and far during the holiday season. With the help of apps such as Words with Friends, Monopoly, Draw Something, Family Feud and much, much more, family game night can still go on. It may look a little different, but kids, most of all, will love sitting down and playing a virtual game of Monopoly with their grandparents. To add to the connection, play together over Zoom or Facetime.
Gifts to foster connection over the holidays during COVID-19
Thanks to AI technology, talking to our friends and family face to face is as easy as “Alexa, call mom.” It’s the perfect addition to the kitchen or family room where most of your time is spent. Cooking alongside your mother or playing a game of charades with your cousins is made easy thanks to the technology that allows you to video chat with a family member, hands-free and at a moment’s notice. Gifting your family one of the many video chat options available is the perfect way to deepen your connection, not only during the holidays but for the months to come.
The connection between family and children is priceless, yet so hard when we often live hundreds to thousands of miles away. With the Gizmo Watch for kids, designated family members can call or message your child directly, aiding in the building of a strong bond. Not only is the Gizmo Watch great for children and teens not yet ready for personal cell phones and tablets, but it is also great for parents as a sense of security with the watch’s GPS capabilities.
Human touch is the focal point of human connection. While that may not be possible this holiday season, we can still give the gift of touch through amazing new technology. Friendship Lamps are a great way to show someone that you are thinking of them even though you may not be near. With the simple tap of your lamp, your loved one’s lamp will light up. Friendship Lamps are often customizable so that specific colors and messages can be sent, as well. If a lamp isn’t your thing, Bond Touch Bracelets are also an option. Bond Touch Bracelets also let others know you are thinking of them by lighting up when activated. Bond Touch Bracelets can be color customized, as well as vibrate. And with the use of the app, family members can count down to their next physical meeting.
Once again, holiday food is king. A sweet gift for a family member is a beautiful cookbook full of your family’s best recipes. Printed or handwritten, there is a multitude of options for a family cookbook to be made to your specifications, such as Heritage Cookbook and Create My Cookbook. The great thing about the gift of a family cookbook is that it can be passed down for generations. In the days of Pinterest and the Food Network, most of our modern recipes can be found with just a few taps on our phone. While the recipes don’t disappoint, there is nothing like pulling out a cookbook full of memories when all you want is the comfort of home and family.
Creating a memory box is often a sweet gesture for graduates and retirees, but they don’t need to wait for a special occasion. While we can’t be physically together, we can still send the gift of love with a beautifully made memory box by Boombox. Boombox gathers photos and personalized messages, prints them on beautiful cards and then they are packed inside a personally-chosen box. If sending a physical memory box isn’t an option, Boombox also has a digital memory box!
A favorite pastime of many families around the holiday season is to dig out the old family videos, dust off the old VCR, and take a trip back into time. With so much technology at our fingertips now, you can give the gift of those old memories in the form of a DVD, digital download or thumb drive. Legacy Box converts all of your old films and photos into modern-day reels that can easily be gifted. Keep the gathering alive by pulling up a video and watching together over a zoom chat.
As military families, we understand the need for family during the holidays. It’s going home, when home has come to mean so many things over the course of a service member’s career. While the current pandemic has limited a lot of our travel this holiday season, we know the importance of connecting with our loved ones and its lasting effects better than anyone. Let the gift of connection guide your holiday season!