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How to use technology to connect with family on Christmas Day 2020

A day-long video chat and plenty of games

Christmas laptop
(Image: © Shutterstock.com / Nastya.ivs)

Thanks to a certain virus, Christmas in 2020 is going to be quite different to previous years, and there’s a good chance you could miss out on visiting relatives’ houses or meeting up for some nice mulled wine on the day itself.

If there’s one silver lining, though, it’s that this pandemic is happening in a time where we’re all digitally fluent, at least to a certain extent, and there are ways to stay connected and in touch using our technology and the internet.

To help you take your Christmas dinner online, or make video chatting and playing games even easier, we've written up this guide on the best ways to use tech to improve the day.

Whatever your holiday situation, and however confident you are using technology, hopefully there will be advice here you find useful.

Improving video chat over dinner

If you were planning to have Christmas lunch or dinner with family but can’t now, there’s a good chance you’ve been considering hopping on video chat for the meal to get some semblance of togetherness. Well, there are a few ways to make that even easier.

Firstly, we’d recommend using a laptop or tablet for the video chat instead of a smartphone, as the bigger screen will make the other person or people easier to see by everyone at your table. If you don’t know which program to use for the call, we’ve got a roundup of great Skype alternatives here.

If you’ve only got a smartphone, it’s totally possible to use that for video calling too, and we’ve got a guide on how to do that here.

Video calling can be very battery-intensive for a device, so make sure you keep your chosen gadget plugged in while you do. That’s especially true if you need to buy a webcam to use.

Something else you might want to consider buying, especially if there will be multiple people over your table, is a microphone. Most gadgets have short-ranged mics, so the person you’re video calling might only be able to hear the people nearest the screen. If you buy a microphone, you could set it up in the center of the table so all can be heard equally.

Just remember if you’re on a tablet or smartphone, it can often be impossible to separate audio input and output (this means your device will try to play audio through the microphone, which doesn’t have a speaker, and so wouldn’t work). So only use a microphone with a computer, so you can set the mic to only be used for audio inputs.

If you’ve got a speaker you could also consider plugging that into your laptop, as the audio device likely goes a lot louder than the built-in one on your computer. This way, it’ll be easier for everyone to hear the video call guest.

Grinch

(Image credit: Universal)

Watching movies and streaming music together

Another Christmas tradition is to consume plenty of festive entertainment together, whether that’s watching a holiday movie or TV show, or listening to the wintery hits. Some streaming apps let you do this with people in different places.

Listening to music together is easy, and we’ve got a guide on social listening - this lets people on different devices all play music together at the same time. This means your relatives can sync up Christmas tunes at exactly the same moment.

Someone needs Spotify Premium to use this platform, but that doesn’t cost much, and everyone else in your family can then join in without having to pay extra. 

For movies and TV, it’s very easy to sync up streaming services to play at the same time as other people - and no, we don’t mean by trying to hit ‘play’ at the same time.

Amazon Prime TV has Watch Party, which you can use to sync up playback from various users, and Netflix works with Teleparty (previously called Netflix Party) to do the same. Disney Plus has its own built-in co-watching function, too. 

So what to watch? Well we’ve got round-ups to the best Netflix Christmas movies and best Christmas movies overall, with more guides to come. Every streaming service offers plenty of festive movies and TV shows (as well as non-Christmas-related ones too, of course), so there’s a big selection out there. Got a particular choice you want to watch, but don’t know how? A handy tool is JustWatch which lets you find out which services offer it.

Board Games

(Image credit: Shutterstock / TechRadar)

Virtual party games

For many families, Christmas wouldn’t be complete without playing plenty of games, and that’s possible through the wondrous powers of the internet.

If your family or friendship group doesn’t have plenty of tech to spare, there are some really simple smartphone games to play on the same or separate phones that might bring some joy. We’ve got a round-up of them here.

We’ve also got guides on how to play board games, how to play card games, and how to play Cards Against Humanity, all of them online or via your mobile device, so you can enjoy some of your favorite Christmas traditions online.

For video game-loving families, where each person has access to gaming PCs or consoles, we’ve got a round-up of the best co-op games you can play, though these might not be suitable for tech-fearing older relatives. 

Hopefully using the tips above, your Christmas Day can be, while not ‘normal’, as close as possible to previous years’ celebrations given the circumstances.

Tom Bedford

Staff Writer, Phones

Tom's role in the TechRadar team is as a staff writer specializing in phones and tablets, but he also takes on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness trackers and more.