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Seven ways to make the most of 2020’s very different family Christmas

By Lisa Salmon

Through the dark days of winter and pandemic restrictions, Christmas has been the one glittering light on the horizon for many families. But while the festive season will still (hopefully) be bright and cheerful, it will undoubtedly be different this year.

New research has found that while 71% of families are planning smaller gatherings this Christmas, more than half (53%) are hoping the celebrations will be more special than ever, and 62% are intending to put a greater emphasis on festive family traditions – with a good helping of tech thrown in to include as many family members as possible.

The research, by Barclays Digital Eagles, found the average household plans to extend their Christmas gathering by five people through virtual means, and half also intend to use tech to celebrate with elderly relatives.

“There’s no denying Christmas will likely be different for most families this year, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be just as enjoyable,” says nanny Sarah Hankinson from Signature Staff, which provides household staff including nannies.

Ryan Lowe, a child and adolescent psychotherapist at the Association of Child Psychotherapists, advises: “Include the children in the planning – kids have such innovative minds and you can use them to help find some creative ways of doing things differently.”

And mother-of-six Rachaele Hambleton, aka parenting blogger Part-Time Working Mummy, says: “Despite Christmas looking a little different this year, many people are still looking forward to it and will be embracing new things.

Here are the trio’s tips for a fun-filled but different family Christmas…

1. Get creative with your decorations
There’s never been a better excuse to go mad with your Christmas decorations, says Lowe. So if they’re already up, see if you can add a few more everywhere, and if you’ve still not done them, make sure that when they do go up they’re bigger and brighter than ever before to cheer the whole household up after such a miserable year.

2. Make a Christmas lottery
In the build-up to the big day, try creating a Christmas lottery with your children, suggests Hankinson. Write down activities like baking and building gingerbread houses, watching a festive film and making festive ornaments on bits of paper, fold them up and choose a new surprise each day to do together as a family, in the run-up to Christmas Day.

3. Have a festive video breakfast
Create new traditions and invite family and friends to enjoy a festive breakfast over a video call, on Christmas Day, suggests Hankinson.

4. Enjoy quality (Face) time
“This year, we’re getting creative when it comes to bringing the family together,” says Hambleton. “Though certain relatives won’t be able to celebrate with us physically, we won’t let that get in the way of sharing special moments together.

“We’ll be using FaceTime to ensure relatives don’t miss out on any of the Christmas morning fun, and we’ll likely do the same during dinner too. Christmas is all about quality time and we’re making sure to maintain that, despite the circumstances.”

5. Play games with friends and family even if they’re in another house
Play board games, or make a family board game together, adding in elements or questions that are only relevant to the players, suggests Lowe.

“You could send other families and friends the same board or card games you’re buying or making for your own kids, then you can play the games over video link if you’re not able to see them face-to-face this year,” she suggests.

6. Get savvy with the veg
All this video linking takes time, so make sure you save precious minutes elsewhere – particularly with your meal prep, advises Hambleton. She says that she, like 13% of families surveyed by McCain, boils all the veg in the morning and then covers it with food wrap straight away.

“This means when it’s almost time to serve dinner, we don’t have the panic of ensuring all our vegetables are cooked at the right times or over boiled or undercooked,” she says. “Because it’s prepared ahead of time, it’s simply a matter of quickly microwaving them before serving, then finishing off with a dollop of butter and some black pepper. They taste just as fresh and are really delicious.”

7. Look forward to the future
Lowe says it’s important to remember that after such a bad year for the whole world, the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme means 2021 could be much better.

“The vaccines may make it possible to slowly think about seeing loved ones again and you can plan who you’re going to see and what you’ll do with them,” she says. “You can play family dinner games that include questions like ‘What’s the thing you miss most about life before the pandemic?’ and ‘What’s the first thing you’ll do when all the restrictions are over?’”

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