12 Tips for an (Actually!) Fun Virtual Holiday Party

published Dec 15, 2020
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While the current global pandemic means you’re unable to spend in-person time with some of your favorite people, it doesn’t mean that you have to forgo all festive cheer for a lonely holiday on the couch. With the right pre-planning (and the right party-ready attitude), you can make this year’s virtual celebration just as fun and memorable as past holiday get-togethers. Don’t know where to start? Consider us your holiday cheer squad and peep these genius tips from party pros.  

1. Create a Formal Invitation

Drum up excitement for your digital soiree early with a virtual invitation. “It’s so easy to say, ‘Oh, we’ll just shoot a link out at some point on Thursday,’ and then people get tired or lazy and make excuses—we’ve all been there with Zoom calls!” says Caroline Creidenberg, founder and CEO of Wedfuly, a virtual wedding and event company. “The more formal or special you make the event invitation, the more excited your family will be to participate.” Sites like Paperless Post, Punchbowl, and Smilebox all have a slew of holiday-themed digital invitations to choose from, so you’re sure to find one that suits your party vibe. Bonus: An e-vite is a great way to keep all important info in one place, so you won’t have to field week-of texts from family members who lost the Zoom link.   

2. Give Everyone a Task

You know how guests constantly pop into the kitchen during holiday parties to help the host? You can replicate that same “all in this together” feeling for your virtual celebration. “Getting everyone involved helps ensure attendance,” says Fallon Carter, owner of Fallon Carter Events. “Make sure each person has a way to contribute to the celebration, whether that’s helming the music, managing the technical aspects, or just reminding everyone when to top off their bubbly.” 

3. Request a Dress Code

Maybe your family members are fans of ugly Christmas sweaters, or perhaps your crew loves to dress to the nines—either way, now’s the time to break out your holiday best. “Request that guests wear fun hats, pajamas, headpieces, or other items to enhance your celebration,” suggests Jove Meyer, event planner and owner of Jove Meyer Events. “You can all be dressed up with nowhere to go together!” If you have a dress code tradition already in place from years past, continue it this year for your virtual call. If you don’t, consider instating one! It could be as simple as a red and green color palette, festive metallics, or wintry whites. 

4. Deck the Halls

No party—virtual or otherwise—is complete without a few dazzling decorations. Go all out glamming up the area that will show behind you on Zoom, and encourage your crew to do the same. “Tinsel, garland, pine cones, jingle bells—just have fun with it,” says Carter. “This is the year to go a bit crazy with the decor, so suggest your family do the same, then vote on the wildest and weirdest set-up.” Another option we love? A tree lighting ceremony. Think: Your own personal Rockefeller Center. Set up your screens facing your spruce and have fun decorating the boughs together before dimming the lights for the big reveal. “I’m sending ornaments to friends in advance for them to add to their tree instead of visiting this year,” adds Carter.  

5. Pull Together a Party Playlist

Nothing creates a celebratory atmosphere better than some tunes, so don’t be afraid to crank the carols. Use a music streaming service, like Spotify, to pull together a festive playlist. You could even send along the link ahead of time so everyone can get in on the mood music while they’re prepping for your digital celebration. Another option? Actual caroling! “Task one person with using the ‘share audio music from computer’ feature on Zoom, then play a few favorite songs for a holiday sing-a-long,” suggests Brittany Ward, lead event planner and virtual event producer for Modern Rebel Co. 

6. Mix Up a Cocktail

We’re just going to say it: A party’s not a party without a signature sip. Ensure your friends and family have something to clink by dreaming up a custom cocktail for your virtual bash. You can send along a well-loved recipe ahead of time, or invite one of the guests (or a pro!) to lead a mini mixology class for the whole group. “For an adults-only virtual holiday gathering, a custom cocktail is something everyone can have fun with,” says Lindsey Sachs, owner of Collective by Sachs, a wedding planning and design company. “Guests can shop for ingredients in advance, and enjoy learning something new together while sipping and socializing, just as you would in someone’s living room.” 

7. Keep Conversation Flowing

While it’s great to see everyone’s faces on a Zoom call—especially around the holiday season—it can be pretty hard to keep a good flow of conversation, no matter how used to digital hangouts you are. “We’ve all been on awkward stop-and-start Zoom calls where conversation feels impossible due to lags in the software, an inability to virtually ‘mingle’ when only one person can speak at a time, and distractions brought on by the reality of sitting in front of a computer as notifications pop up,” says Justine Broughal, founder of Together Events. “In order to dig deep and help create a meaningful experience for you and your guests, consider using tools like Convers(ate) or Actually Curious to plan topics that might make for smoother, more engaging conversation.” 

Credit: Poppytalk

8. Style Similar Dining Tables

While you may break bread virtually with your loved ones this year, you can still mimic the feel of a full house by styling matching holiday tablescapes to (digitally) dine at together. Kick off the party by all DIYing the same holiday centerpiece, or go big and request that everyone rent the same chic tabletop decor design through a company like Hestia Harlow. “You can choose the same setting as your family or friends, allowing you to all metaphorically feel like you’re all at the same table and in the same room, not just the same Zoom,” says company co-founder Marielle Shortell.

9. Cook Up Something Comforting

Chances are, you’re probably missing out on at least one of your favorite holiday dishes this year, whether that’s Aunt Linda’s famous mac and cheese or your mom’s signature latkes. The good news: You and your whole Zoom crew can recreate all your favorite comfort food classics together. “Have the family member or friend that usually provides a signature dish lead a cooking class for everyone to learn how to make it at home,” suggests Ward. “Your ‘chef’ can send out the [list of] ingredients ahead of time, then everyone can cook and enjoy eating together when it’s done.”

10. Host a Gift Exchange

Spread a bit of extra cheer during your virtual celebration by incorporating a gift exchange. Make Secret Santa work by choosing names ahead of your party so everyone will have time to shop for and mail their gift, or pull together easy and inexpensive care packages to show each person you’re thinking of them. “Curate your own gift box to send to friends or family members who might be joining you virtually,” suggests Broughal. “Even though you’re not in the same home, that doesn’t mean you can’t share sweet treats and gifts to make the virtual gathering a little more celebratory.” Go around and open any gifts on camera one-by-one, using Zoom’s ‘spotlighting’ feature to highlight each gift opener as you go.

11. Watch a Favorite Flick

If you and your cousins make a point to watch Elf each holiday season, or your friends can’t imagine Christmas passing without a Die Hard screening, there’s no reason you have to skip your viewing this year. “Everyone can hit play at the same time on Zoom, or you can use the Netflix Party Extension to play simultaneously,” suggests Ward. For an added bonus, mail out tins of holiday popcorn ahead of time to snack on while streaming.  

12. Peruse (and Snap!) Family Photos

Close out your digital celebration with a bit of nostalgia by reminiscing over holidays past. “In a year when a focus on family has been greatly emphasized, it’s important to take time together to reflect on favorite memories and stories,” says Sachs. “Ask family to send their top five favorite photos from the years, then curate a digital holiday album to share on your video chat using a free template from a site like Canva.” Oh, and don’t even think of signing off without getting a shot of your very virtual, very 2020 holiday celebration. “Don’t forget to record or screenshot the family holiday Zoom,” says Meyer. “You’ll want it as a memory and keepsake of this very unique socially distant holiday!”

The Home for the Holidays vertical was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy and The Kitchn editorial teams and generously underwritten by Cointreau.