5 Virtual Holiday Party Ideas to Try This Year (and 5 Potential Issues to Avoid)

In the age of social distancing, virtual gatherings and celebrations have become pretty common. In-person meet-ups have turned into virtual check-ins and, now that the holiday season is upon us, many families are opting for a non-traditional event.

For plenty of us, this could mean celebrating our first Christmas alone or without traveling to see family. But thankfully, there's still the option to celebrate with loved ones by hosting a virtual holiday event, complete with and holiday recipes.

Keep scrolling for five fun ideas—and some common issues to look out for.

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virtual holiday party ideas
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1. Do A White Elephant Gift Exchange

In case you're unfamiliar with how the game works, every participant has to purchase a random gift (typically with a spending limit). Then, on the day of the exchange, after each person draws a random number, they all get to pick a gift of their choice, in chronological order. But of course, there's one added twist: If a person picks a gift that they don't like, they can swap it for another gift that someone else has already opened.

It sounds rather complicated, but believe it or not, there's a virtual version of the game that's just as fun and entertaining. See our detailed breakdown of how to do a virtual White Elephant.

2. Throw A Virtual Holiday Dinner

It's not the same as getting together physically, but safely sharing a holiday meal via platforms like Zoom and FaceTime comes pretty close. And there are actually several ways to get creative with this. For example, you can designate a host and have them create a special theme and menu for your holiday dinner. Or, to make it even more exciting, you can incorporate a "Food Show and Tell," where people get to showcase their dishes and exchange recipes for their most popular creations.

3. Try Virtual Karaoke

One of the best ways to bond is by showing off your vocal chops with a few rounds of virtual holiday karaoke—but do keep in mind that it will require some planning, especially since there are several ways to go about it. For the most hassle-free experience, we recommend using Watch2Gether, which easily allows all users to watch the same karaoke videos in sync while one person sings along. And even better, it doesn't require you to create an account (click here for the set-up process).

4. Compete In Virtual Gingerbread Decorating

Meet the new virtual team-building activity that's bound to become your newest obsession. Virtual Gingerbread Wars is a company that mails gingerbread kits to your whole team (or family) ahead of the virtual party, then gathers everyone on a call to start the games on the scheduled day. It’s, of course, inspired by the classic gingerbread decorating competition, except this time, it also involves fun activities like holiday trivia and gingerbread self-portraits.

5. Play Virtual Christmas Bingo

For virtual holiday bingo, you can go about it in two ways. You can create your own template and distribute it to all the party-goers, or go for an online template that's already been prepared, like this one from Team Building. Then, once you've prepared all the bingo cards, mail them out to everyone ahead of the party, so they'll be prepared to join in on the fun when the game begins.

5 Potential Issues To Avoid

1. Sound Problems

Imagine that you and your BFFs are in the middle of a super intense virtual game. One person is taking her turn and she begins to speak, but there's just one problem: No one can hear a word that she's saying. Still, she continues to speak on mute for five minutes straight while the rest of the group tries to tell her that she's been muted the entire time. And just like that, the game is brought to an unfortunate halt.

How to avoid it: Consider sending out clear instructions for everyone's Zoom and audio settings before the festivities begin. And just to be on the safe side, choose a tech-savvy relative who can act as the group's personal tech expert. This way, they can chat with the attendees by phone and walk them through any issues they're having while everyone else keeps the Zoom fun going.

2. Everyone’s Talking At The Same Time

What do you get when you add fun games to a family of fierce competitors? A cacophony of excited voices that have no shame in talking over each other. But while we can totally understand the enthusiasm, having to listen to what sounds like a dozen conversations at once can be...overwhelming.

How to avoid it: To maintain order, consider designating a host and creating an agenda. We know, we know—organizing something formal sounds like a bit much, but planning ahead can ensure that things run smoothly, and it doesn't have to be super official. An emcee can easily set the atmosphere on Zoom, establish some general rules and help carry out the agenda to avoid chaos. Keep in mind when choosing this person that it's helpful if they have a natural ability to take charge and keep people entertained.

3. There’s Nothing To Talk About

Perhaps the virtual event starts out with everyone talking at once and, just 15 minutes later, it seems like everyone has run out of things to say. Or maybe most of your relatives aren't very talkative, which can lead to quite a few awkward silences. Either way, the idea should be to keep everyone engaged and entertained. While that can be a challenge with the limits of our technology, it's definitely not impossible.

How to avoid it: This one ties back to the need for an agenda, and it can be very simple. For example, if you suspect that you and your coworkers will run out of things to chat about at the virtual office party, spice things up by including a few of the games that we've listed here. Better yet, throw in a prize or two.

4. The Gathering Drags On For Too Long

On Thanksgiving, Zoom was kind enough to temporarily lift its 40-minute time limit for free meetings, which meant that families didn't have to worry about getting cut off during their Thanksgiving toasts. But since it's possible that Zoom will do the same for Christmas, it's likely that your most talkative loved ones will drag the event on for more than two hours. And no one wants that.

How to avoid it: As you plan ahead, set a specific time for the Zoom gathering to end. If there's one person who tends to launch into hour-long stories or go off on random tangents, then consider making a plan with your emcee to set time limits for individual speakers (or at the very least, keep things moving along).

5. Random Zoom Bombers Pop Up

Maybe your sibling's roommate just happens to appear in the background with no pants on during the Zoom call. Or maybe your relative and his partner forget to turn off the camera before showing some seriously over-the-top PDA. We've all been there before, at some point. But thankfully, there are ways to prevent these kinds of scenarios during your virtual holiday party.

How to avoid it: As you create your agenda, encourage participants to join from appropriate locations (especially those who live with roommates). Even more importantly, make sure that everyone is familiar with how to turn off their mics and cameras if they need to do something personal. It'll definitely save the family some awkward moments.

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Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Nakeisha has been interviewing celebrities and covering all things entertainment for over 8 years, but she has also written on a wide range of topics, like career...