The holiday season can be a tricky time: on the one hand, Christmas festivities abound, while on the other, it can be dispiriting if you don’t have special plans. You may be missing a family member or friend who’s traveling (or maybe you’re going out of town). Well, I’ve found the key to keeping my spirits up during the holiday season is planning ahead, to make sure I stay closely connected to those I care about. Between all the wintry illnesses, snowstorms, road closures, and people’s vacation schedules, it’s not always easy to make that connection. Here’s what I’ve found to be the most beneficial:
Voice & video apps
My grandkids love getting video calls from me—and to be honest, I love it too. Giving my Christmas blessings through a high-quality communications application is the next best thing to being there in person. (Not to mention, it’s free.) Plus they get a kick out of the fact that I’m “up to date” on the latest technology.
A tip for those not so tech savvy: There are plenty of applications that are free to set up on your computer or phone. I like to use Skype, WhatsApp and Viber. And if you’re not sure how to use them, YouTube has helpful tutorial videos.
With all the financial stresses we already face during winter—high heating bills and gift expenses among them—it’s nice to be able to make long distance calls for free over WiFi. Just double check that you’re making these calls over WiFi and not your mobile phone network—if you’re not sure, ask a neighbour or even your service provider to show you the difference.
Also, recall quality: if you’re not able to hear each other so well, it may be due to a weak Internet connection. When I first started using Skype, the quality was terrible. That was until my son bought me a new Internet router. Now that we both have good connections, the conversation flows much more smoothly for both video and sound. If at times the video quality isn’t great, you can always make an audio-only call, and it sounds just like a regular landline call.
Ok, so maybe we’re not posting selfies at our age. But what I like about social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is that they give me a unique window into my relatives’ and friends’ lives, and another way to stay in touch. Especially if your grandkids are like mine, and post updates practically on the hour.
In case you’re not familiar with these platforms: Instagram is for sharing photos and Twitter is like SMS-ing, while Facebook lets you share photos and videos as well as chat. They may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but once you get the hang of them (and find the one you like best) they can be a fun way to pass an hour or so while relaxing at home. And it feels nice when you post something and get likes and comments in return. It’s not as good as getting a hug, but it’s been known to bring a smile to my face.
Online Christmas cards
Remember when the local druggist stocked up on such a wonderful variety of Christmas cards? Nowadays, there’s no need to stand in the queue to get one. Making and sending online Christmas cards can be a lot more meaningful, in a few ways. First, you can add your own photos and write your own message, so it’s more personal. And by sharing Christmas cards online, you can actually see when your recipient got it, liked it, and commented in reply. (As opposed to cards in the mail, where once they’re in the postbox, you don’t get any insight into how they were received).
Making your own cards is much easier than you might think. Simply go to a search engine like Google and look for ‘online Christmas cards’. There are several free card makers out there. And they’re surprisingly fun to make. As a bonus, you don’t have to trudge out in the cold to the post office.
Making new digital traditions
Once I became accustomed to using these tools, I found that they opened up a whole new range of possibilities. I found myself using Skype even more than my mobile, and I now have a daily habit of tracking what my friends are up to on Facebook. Getting comfortable with these technologies led me to using them in new ways, which really helps me feel more connected.
For example: last year, I taught one of my Christmas recipes to my granddaughter over video! I simply turned on Skype, pulled out my famous fruitcake recipe, and instructed her in the fine art of making one that doesn’t have the texture of concrete. We had a ball, we didn’t have to worry about long distance calling fees, and it made the distance between us feel smaller.
Also, sometimes when my children and I have a time difference between us (if they’re traveling, or I nod off before they’re done putting the kids to sleep), we use recorded video greetings instead. It’s such a lovely surprise to wake up to on my phone in the morning—where I can see them and hear what’s new even when I’m awake before them. In short, we don’t always have to be on the same schedule or in the same postcode to be connected.
To those who feel down during the holiday season: it’s completely natural, and I can relate. I encourage you to set up phone/Skype/WhatsApp dates with family and friends, so you have these special moments to look forward to. Make a fun afternoon for yourself creating your own Christmas cards, and exercise that creativity muscle you probably haven’t used in a while. You may be surprised at how good of a time you’ll have.