Photo credit: Photo by MayoFi on Unsplash
Photo credit: Photo by MayoFi on Unsplash

From House Beautiful

Since the pandemic started in March, the majority of the celebrations and events we know and love have gone completely online. With COVID-19 numbers still on the rise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that holiday gatherings should continue to be hosted virtually or exclusively with members of your own household to minimize the risk of spread. Keeping that in mind, we tapped party planning experts Mindy Weiss, Courtney Ajinca, and Virginia Trafton Frischkorn to offer their ideas on how to celebrate the holidays virtually this year.

Best wrapped present competition

Your holiday Zoom/Facetime/Houseparty call can go above just small talk. While unwrapping gifts over a call is an easy way to feel connected to loved ones far away, Mindy Weiss, a party consultant based in Los Angeles who has planned fêtes for countless celebs, suggests another fun activity: a gift wrapping competition!

“Each family or each friend group comes up with the most original, most beautiful gift wrapping,” she suggests to House Beautiful. “I like that idea that they could actually wrap it on Zoom and everybody could add their own ingredients. It’s fun to watch.” To really up the ante, make it a race against the clock with judges!

Custom cocktail making Zoom

Zoom happy hours may have lost their stamina; however, that doesn’t mean they can’t make a return for the holidays. Celebrity event planner and interior designer Courtney Ajinca suggests concocting your own special beverage over the video call with loved ones. “Everyone gets a list of the custom mocktail or cocktails that they want to create, and then everyone goes and gets those ingredients,” she says, adding that families can “make it together as a bonding experience on the call.”

Pro tip: If you’re following a recipe online, have one family member volunteer to read the steps aloud.

Virtual Secret Santa gift exchange

Ajinca also suggests doing a Secret Santa virtual gift exchange. Instead of gifting the present in person, you can mail it to the respective recipient’s home. Then, everyone can open their gifts on camera and try to guess who their mystery buyer is. Websites like this Secret Santa Generator will make it easier for you and your crew to draw names.

Party boxes

Whether you’re hosting a small outdoor gathering this holiday season (that complies with social distancing guidelines) or spending the holidays with members of your household, you can still have the ultimate holiday soirée. Party boxes have entered the scene as a means to help make planning holiday gatherings simple, but also safe.

Virginia Trafton Frischkorn started her custom party box business Bluebird in a Box in August 2020 to help families continue to commemorate special moments. “Instead of having to go online and actually buy all this stuff, I’m just going to make it really easy, save you the time, and ship it to your doorstep,” she tells House Beautiful.

While her website boasts boxes for all sorts of celebrations, the Merry + Bright and the Winter Social boxes are ideal for the holiday season. Each box includes all the materials needed to be a superb host. Think: e-vites, printable menus (with curated menu options, recipes and grocery lists!), seat cards, gift tags, cocktail recipes, custom DJ mixes, playlists, and more.

“All of the food that we’re suggesting is all plated, as opposed to a kind of grazing board style,” she notes of the boxes. There are also “guidelines [in each box] with regards to distancing and masks,” as well as “cute ideas for themed-masks.”

While these boxes encourage folks to celebrate together, Frischkorn hopes that recipients will keep their celebrations small or limited to members of their immediate household. “We’re educating people that even though you’re gathering, you want to do so safely,” she states, which is exactly why each box includes a step-by-step breakdown of each component. “We try to tell people what they should do to make sure they’re doing it safely,” she said, adding that “especially in the time of the pandemic, there’s so much stress, there’s so much unknown that people kind of like being told what to do.”

While most folks will only be around a handful of loved ones this holiday season, these boxes help foster special in-person connections among the few that can safely be together.

Custom virtual event

If you want to really go all out, you can hire an event planner to design a custom virtual experience—perfect for large-scale gatherings, corporate events, or families with a lot of heads. If you’ve ever immersed yourself in any type of fantasy world (think: video games) then you’re going to love this next type of celebration. The best part is, you’ll actually be interacting with people you know, not internet strangers.

“I do these 3D virtual walk-throughs, ” Anjica tells House Beautiful. Using steaming platforms such as StreamYard, “[my team and I] go in and we create a space that is kinda like an immersive virtual reality space,” she explains.

“I would design it just as if I was designing a space in person. Then we add all the different elements to the space like the photo booth, the dance floor, the bar, the lounge, and everything like that.” That’s right, you can still have a planner outfit your perfect party…in a virtual world.

At the events Ajinca creates, guests are allowed to choose their own hangout spot. For example, if a guest wanted to hang out at the bar, they would be able to make that their backdrop. Unlike other virtual reality experiences, additional equipment VR headsets are not required.

Other ways to virtually celebrate the holidays this year…

Airbnb’s virtual holiday experiences

While you may not want to travel this year, Airbnb offers a variety of seasonal online experiences to book either on Christmas Day or during the Christmas season. These experiences include a chat with Mama Claus at the North Poles, a special storytime with Santa, or an interactive party led by some epic drag queens. There are even opportunities to connect with celebrities. Think: a caroling session with Idina Menzel or a chat with Kris Jenner on all things holiday decor.

Free video calls with Santa

From now through December 23, T-Mobile is gifting everyone (including non-customers!) the chance to schedule a free video call with Santa via! Those interested can head here to sign up for a slot (note: the service is in high demand; new time slots open daily at 9 a.m. P.T./12 p.m. ET). After the video call, T-Mobile will also send participants a keepsake video of their chat with Santa.

The official Santa cam

Yankee Candle created the for children and parents to access anytime up until December 24. This cam spotlights Santa’s busy life at the North Pole as he builds toys, reads letters, and prepares for his big adventure come Christmas eve. While the cam is available to access 24-7, the best time to tune in each day is between the hours of 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. It’s during this time frame that Santa partakes in extra activities like learning TikTok dances, sketching pictures of Rudolph, painting toys, and more.

Fun holiday backgrounds

Yankee Candle has also curated a selection of holiday-themed video backgrounds to download that are nothing short of magical.

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