How to host a virtual Christmas dinner

Staying home this holiday doesn’t mean you can’t see family and friends

Even though the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges everyone to stay home — or at least avoid large, indoor gatherings — you don’t have to miss out on seeing family and friends.

Sure, you were looking forward to Aunt Sadie asking you yet again when you’re getting married/having a child/getting a job, but you need to keep yourself and our family safe. Right?

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Many people will zoom through Christmas this year, but not because they need to get back on the road or they’re tired of Aunt Sadie’s interrogation. Families will gather via the social platform Zoom to share a drink, a meal or just memories of holidays past.

But you don’t have to zoom through your Zoom dinner. The company is once again lifting its 40-minute limit on meetings for the holidays. That includes the last day of Hanukkah, Christmas Eve and Day, New Year’s Eve and Day, and the last day of Kwanzaa.

Like any other gathering, however, you’ll need to do some prep work to make it successful. Here are some tips:

Decide what kind of gathering you’ll have

Your family might prefer sharing laughs while cooking instead of watching one another eat, and that’s all good. Whenever you decide to meet, make sure everyone knows what the plan is. If you’ll be cooking together, send recipes to those who don’t have them or to those who are new to preparing a holiday meal. Encourage everyone to make sure they have all ingredients and tools needed before logging in, so others don’t have to wait.

If you and friends prefer to talk over dinner, set up your phone/tablet/laptop ahead of time so you can check the angle and lighting. You don’t want everyone staring at the top of your head or up your nose during the meal.

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Have a practice run

Uncle Ralph knows how to text, but he’s never been on a video call. He’s your favorite uncle, though, so walk him through how to access Zoom, set up an account, log in, etc. He might want to pick a background, too, if he’s apprehensive about family members seeing his art collection or cobwebs.

During your practice run, make sure everyone knows how the mute button works so you don’t all talk over one another. You might also want to agree on some ground rules during this meeting: conversation topics that are off limits, what time to log in on Thanksgiving, etc.

Don’t stress too much

Problems arise at many family gatherings — someone is late; something burns; someone’s feelings get hurt. It’s possible your virtual reunion will have some hiccups, too — slow internet; lost connections; someone’s feelings get hurt.

Don’t stress too much. If everyone forgets to hit mute, that’s OK. If no one wants to talk for a bit, that’s OK, too.

And if Aunt Sadie’s questions start to get too personal, remember you have volume control.