Away For The Holidays

Christmas means time with friends and family. Traditions. Togetherness. But what if you are thousands of miles away?  5,367 miles to be exact (Eudora, Kansas to Tunis, Tunisia). How can you be apart and together?

In a turn of unexpected events, more people find themselves in this situation, even if they live in the same town as their relatives. The Covid-19 pandemic has a lot of people rethinking how to celebrate from a safe distance.

I think framing it in a positive light is key. We may not physically be in the same location, but there are still ways to feel connected. You just have to get creative. Luckily, I have months of practice living in Africa while my family and friends remain in the States. We have all learned how to keep in touch and I’m proud to say that my relationships are just as strong as they were before our move. In fact, there are some people I talk to more consistently now than I did when we lived in the same state. Of course, I would much rather see them in person, but everyone has made a great effort of making us feel included from afar. 

The following are some creative ideas to help people in long-distance (or Covid-related distance) relationships. Some are more intricate than others, requiring more planning. Most of these ideas are targeted towards families with young kids. I hope they inspire you to think about connection in new ways.

Daily Photo Challenge Sharing

This is not a new or unique idea, but it’s traditionally a solo project. There are lots of photo challenges on pinterest and other sites. Basically, for every day in a month, there is a new prompt, such as “morning” and you take a photo of what that prompt means to you. For the prompt “morning” you could take a picture of your coffee cup or the sun rising, etc.

I took this idea and created a calendar with prompts (some personalized) to share with some of my friends back home. I’ll create a seperate chat on WhatsApp just for this so it doesn’t clog up our other conversation threads. I’m hoping that sharing photos with each other each day will help us get little glimpses into each other’s lives and encourage more communication. Who doesn’t love getting nice text messages throughout the day?! I also made a calendar for my kids and their friends as well- less complicated and not daily, but I think they’ll have fun getting a turn as photographers and having the opportunity to connect with their buddies. Plus, it kind of doubles as a countdown till Christmas.

Bedtime Stories

Part of the bedtime routine in our house is cuddling up with a good book and reading to our children, but what if we allowed our far-away family to join us? There are two ways we could do this. We could let grandparents find a book and video call us at a particular time. A live reading just takes a little coordination to schedule. Currently, we are 8 hours ahead of our family so if they call at noon, that’s 8pm in Tunisia. However, If work schedules don’t allow for a reading in real-time, the other option is recording themselves reading a book and sending it for us to watch when we are ready at a later time. 

Now if you want to get really fancy and you enjoy video editing like I do, you could coordinate something really special with everyone involved. Luckily, my family is on-board with my flair for drama. I took the poem Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore and divided it up into parts. My dad and his wife will read part of the story. My mom and her partner will read part of it. My husband’s parents will read a part, and my sister and her kids will record a part. Once they’ve sent me their video clips, I will edit them together into one surprise video to share with my kids on Christmas Eve Night. They will see all of their grandparents and Aunt and cousins sharing a bedtime tale before they fall asleep. I’m so excited to see how it comes together.

Edit: A friend just shared an app called “Caribu”that might be worth looking into. It’s a video chat app, but it’s targeted to kids and relatives. They can play games like memory match or mazes, read books, and other activities during the video call.

A Shared Meal

Part of the joy of the Holiday Season is coming together to share a special meal. This year, I don’t have access to some of my favorite comfort foods and I certainly won’t be sitting across the table from my family. But sometimes you gotta play pretend! One of the ideas we have toyed with is having each household, near or far make the same recipe on a certain day. We’d take pictures and videos to share along the way and check in with each other throughout the process. Then, when everyone is finished cooking, we would set up a video chat and sit at our respective tables to eat the “same” meal. 

A variation of this idea could be sending out a generic recipe, perhaps for something like sugar cookies, and then everyone gets to put their own spin on it. My kids love decorating cookies (usually with disgusting amounts of frosting and candies that should not go together like chocolate chips and red hots, but to each his own, right?). I think they would have even more fun, knowing they have an audience to show them off to afterwards. And ZOOM calls are always better with snacks!

The Little Things

If you are looking for quicker, less complicated ways to connect more often, here are two other things we enjoy:

  • WhatsApp voice messaging– Texting is great but sometimes it’s so nice just to hear someone’s voice. Plus, my kids have an easier time participating in conversations when they can talk rather than type. Sometimes, I’ll just hand them my phone for a bit and they leave short little messages to grandparents or friends telling them about something they did at school that day or just letting them know they are thinking about them. MarcoPolo is another user friendly app for this. And we’ve learned that you can still feel connected even when you aren’t talking in real time. Sometimes we leave messages for people in the middle of their night and vice versa. Everyone just replies on their own time. I’ve woken up to 60+ missed messages (thanks, “girl chat”) and it’s fun to wake up and read, like my personal social news outlet. I have found that I can still have meaningful conversations even when it’s not in real-time and I am so thankful for that!
  • TouchNote App– I discovered this because sending mail is not always fast and reliable over here. This app allows you to create postcards or letters on your phone and then they print and mail your physical card. Sometimes if we go to a cool place, like a Roman Ruins site, our postcard will feature a picture of us there and then we tell our loved ones about where we’ve been. It may not be handwritten, but it’s the next best thing. Since the company is located in the US, our friends receive their cards in their mailbox within days of us creating it. If we were to attempt to send a card from Tunisia, friends would have to wait about a month or more to receive it. We are going to create our Christmas cards through TouchNote this year, and the nice part is, it already has all of the addresses saved and ready to go!

So for all those feeling disconnected, I feel you. It’s hard, especially this time of year when the weather gets cold and the Holidays are feeling not quite the same. Remember, this too shall pass and while you are in it, you might as well make it a Holiday Season to remember. Sometimes the creative part of our brain shuts down when we are in survival mode, but even a simple message or call can go a long way. If that’s all that you have the capacity to do, that is enough.

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