Let tech bring you closer this year
Despite what Cliff Richard claims, Christmas time isn't just about mistletoe and wine. It's also about exchanging presents, and falling into a food coma in front of various TV specials. And most of all it's about enjoying time with family members (or perhaps settling scores that have bubbled away all year).
Like them or just tolerate them, family is what makes Christmas special – and it can be tough if you're separated from loved ones. The good news is, whether you're at different ends of the country or in different countries thousands of miles apart, technology can help you stay in touch.
We've delved into the world of apps, games and bizarre wearables to show you how to keep connected this festive season – with our help you can be sick of the sight of uncle Frank well before Christmas dinner, even though he's 3000 miles away.
Skype / Google Hangouts / Facetime
Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way first. Video chat is perhaps the most tangible way to stay connected with family, and given that these days most of us have camera-equipped smartphones in our pockets it's easy to keep in touch any time, anywhere.
There are lots of options, including Skype, Facetime and Google Hangouts, and they're available on a wide range of devices and also on the web (although Apple-limited in the case of Facetime).
Skype is particularly handy, because even if you want to stay in touch with a relative who's stuck in the communications stone age you can dial out to 'normal' landline phones, and pay only the equivalent of a local rate call.
And if your parents are too disorganised to schedule a time for a call, then for a small fee you can set up a 'Skype In' number that will enable someone to call your Skype account from any country, but only pay local rate.
Sure, video calls are great, but what if you miss the physical presence of your loved ones? A company called Little Riot might have the solution. Pillow Talk is a pair of wristbands that you and your significant other wear in bed, and which detect your heartbeats. The devices then transmit your beats in real time to your partner's speaker, which can be placed under their pillow.
So when you're lying in bed, even if you're thousands of miles apart, it will feel a little bit more like your other half is sleeping next to you.
After all, what could be more reassuring when you're alone than waking up and sensing there's someone in the bed next to you – even if you're actually just tethered to your pillow with some cardiac rhythms on speaker?
Watch and listen together
It's great that so many of our favourite shows and films are available on-demand to watch whenever we like, but watching alone just isn't the same as watching with friends or family. Luckily, some clever people have the solution for this predicament too.
An app called Rabbit will take videos from YouTube, Netflix and other sources, and let everyone watch together, fully in sync, wherever they are. It'll even give you a chat window so that you can talk to each other during the show – or you can use a camera and mic to chat.
There's also an iPhone app, so you can join in even if you don't have access to a computer.
Wavelength works in a similar way, but is more music-oriented – you can use it to build playlists together, and chat about what you're hearing.
It's slightly surprising that collaborative viewing hasn't taken off in a bigger way, especially when you consider that even the old Netflix app for Xbox 360 used to support just such a feature, called Party Mode, until it was removed in 2011.
Give the gift of giving
Everyone likes to receive a surprise in the post, and given the tools available to us now there's no excuse not to occasionally brighten someone's day.
Services like Amazon Prime enable you to get gifts to a family member in no time at all – and it works internationally, so if you have a British Prime account but want to send a gift to someone in Canada, you can order from Amazon Canada and have the item delivered for free.
So why not order your distant loved ones a surprise, or even something they actually need? Amazon will even gift-wrap the present and include a personalised message.
If you want to send a greetings card but can't get to a postbox in time, or want to post a card to someone in another country, then you can use a service such as Funky Pigeon, which enables you to design and print custom Christmas and other greetings cards.
You can upload your own photos to make the designs truly personal. All you then need to do is come up with message to write inside that's sincere and meaningful without sounding cheesy – which is usually the hardest part.
Follow each other's journeys
If someone in the family is catching a flight home for Christmas, you can you follow them all the way to the arrivals area by using FlightRadar 24. The app enables you to track any plane that's in the air in real time, so you can see exactly how far away your nearest and dearest are.
If the journey is more terrestrial in nature, Glympse is a clever app that will (securely) transmit your location so that it can be tracked, so your family can know exactly where you are at any time. Just be careful not to leave it running too long though, as it'll munch through your phone battery faster than the brother who's just demolished a box of mince pies.
Board games are a staple of the family Christmas – and even if you can't be in the same room, or the same country, as other family members you can still join in the fun.
Both Trivial Pursuit and Monopoly (in the guise of Monopoly Family Fun Pack) are available on PS4 and Xbox One and feature online modes, so however far apart you are you can still enjoy the time-honoured Christmas tradition of falling out over a stupid game.
Ultimately, the easiest way of staying in touch is right in front of our faces for much of the day: social media. The messaging features of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, along with WhatsApp, have made it easier than ever to stay connected.
Unlike fiddly old text messages, group messages are now both super-easy to set up, and reliable. Invite your family into the same Facebook Messenger conversation and you'll have an always-open backchannel for messages, photos, video and emojis, wherever you are.
Most services work across devices too – so whether you're lounging on the sofa with your tablet, squeezed into a Christmas Eve train with your phone pushed into your face by the person next to you, or sitting around in the office earning double time while nothing happens, you can remain close.