Roux’s Giant Guide to the Obvious: Holiday Edition (PART ONE)
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: it’s been one heck of a year. A pandemic, politics, poverty, loss, and uncertainty have wreaked such havoc on 2020, and the end isn’t quite in sight. Still, the holidays are looming just around the corner and a lot of us are facing an unprecedented challenge: how do we make this time of year special WITHOUT risking safety, deepening debt, or even being in the same room as our loved ones? In other words, how do we celebrate without being part of the problem? I mean, should we even be celebrating at all?
At least, I think so. See again: it’s been one heck of a year. We deserve some collective cheer, kindness, and charity. We also need to be connected to those we love in a meaningful way. Plus, those less fortunate are even more vulnerable than usual, so there’s never been a more urgent time to lend a helping hand.
What we shouldn’t do is try to fit old and harmful traditions into this particular edition of the holidays. Large, in-person gatherings? Not right now — they’ll be back. What about overconsumption while shopping and gift giving? Absolutely not. And donating to unscrupulous charities with enormous marketing budgets (ie — the Salvation Army)? Overdone. Instead, let’s look at some alternatives for EVERYTHING that can make this holiday feel less like “making the best of things” and more like “the best holiday I can make for myself and others.”
This the first in three-part blog series I like to call Roux’s Giant Guide to the Obvious: Holiday Edition. Here’s Part One: Alternatives to In-Person Gatherings.
THE YEAR OF ZOOM
I am sick to death of Zoom. I am constantly on it for work, for classes, for virtual open mics, and for social gatherings. I know that burnout is REAL. I also know that navigating a program like Zoom or Skype or Google Hangouts isn’t second nature for everyone. Believe me, I’ve spent the last few months watching grown adults crumble to pieces over not understanding how to turn off their chat notifications. It’s made me realize that Karens™ still very much exist in cyberspace, and that I owe a lot to my sixth-grade computer science teacher.
That said, I accept that Zoom (and its competing software) is saving lives. It sounds dramatic, but it’s the bare bones truth. It’s keeping vulnerable, isolated people connected from a safe distance, and in (mostly) real time. It’s also allowing families and friends to have quality facetime, anytime, anywhere, for free. Physical safety precautions aside, the ability to see and hear the people I care about in quarantine is a godsend for my mental health. Long before COVID ever hit, the same rang true for times I was in long distance romances or friendships. No, it’s never going to be the same as being in the same room as someone — but it’s still an amazing tool and it deserves our appreciation under all our cynicism.
So, for this one year, I encourage you to give a virtual gathering a solid try. Yes, even if your family lives close by. There are tiny ways to make it feel a warmer than a run-of-the-mill video conference, too. First, decorate your space. Or, try out a fun, festive virtual background. Then, dress up for the occasion and coordinate menus with the folks you’ll be on camera with — go as simple as wine and cheese, or takeout from the group’s favorite restaurant (supporting local business, yay!).
On the technical side, do a quick Google search to figure out how to optimize your video and audio settings. Make sure your internet is working and call your resident techie if it’s not (every family has one!). If you’re feeling fancy, set the whole shindig up on your TV so you’re not staring at a small screen or sitting at an uncomfortable angle for long periods of time.
Remember, if everyone commits to making it work, it will. You know, bandwidth willing.
OTHER WAYS TO CONNECT
I’ve written extensively about my love of letter writing before (see this blog here). To summarize, writing a letter or sending a card is one of the most thoughtful, meaningful, and cost-effective things you can do for a person. This probably triples in power around the holidays. If you’re already a connoisseur of Christmas cards, I urge you to GET THEM OUT EARLY THIS YEAR. One, why wait to make your loved ones feel all those warm fuzzies? Two, the USPS already has enough to deal with without having to rush your holiday mail out at the last minute. Support them by being proactive (and by buying plenty of festive stamps!)
If you’ve never written a holiday card in your life, this is the best year to try! No idea where to start? I wrote a beginner’s guide to letter writing you might find helpful here. There are also a million ideas for the gleaming on Pinterest. Need something easier? Check out Postable. It’s a website you can use to collect all of the addresses of your loved ones and automatically generate greetings to be mailed to them. It’s not as personal as I’d typically go, but to each their own!
Additionally, many folks I know celebrate their holidays by playing board and party games with their chosen families. Thankfully, this is more than possible in cyberspace. So, adjacent to virtual gatherings, let’s also talk about virtual game nights.
If you aren’t familiar with Jackbox Games , honestly, I’m impressed. I’ll also explain — Jackbox is a videogame company that produces adult multiplayer party games that can be played by anyone, anywhere, via computer OR mobile device. Their ‘party packs’ and a la carte games range from $10 — $25 apiece, and can accommodate anywhere from 4 to 10 players (plus unlimited audience members).
Their latest release — Jackbox Party Pack 7 — is a RIOT and a current favorite in my circle. We play every Friday night, actually, and it’s been essential to us staying sane and connected in this strange, socially distanced time. Our top six favorite Jackbox offerings are currently Quiplash, Blather Round, Joke Boat, Fibbage, Role Models, and Trivia Murder Party.
Another major hit this year is the secret-role indie multiplayer game, Among Us. If you’ve never heard of it (sounds pretty sus to me), check YouTube. At a whopping $4.99 on Steam, you can spend your Christmas, Hanukah, or whatever trying to covertly kill your entire family — or get those damn wires in electric fixed — on the cheap.
Other pros include its simple, easy-to-learn controls, its efficient runtime (anywhere from 5–20 minutes a round), and its endless replayability (as imposters are randomly selected each time). It does max out at 10 players, but can be played from either a computer or mobile device. Plus, you can take out those mounting frustrations against your racist uncle in a fun and safe way!
Looking for something a little simpler, or maybe something totally free? No problem! Here are some other favorites that have brought joy to my friends’ weekly game nights:
1. SKRIBBLIO — essentially online Pictionary where someone draws and everyone else tries to guess what is being drawn. The sooner folks guess what you’re drawing, the more points they (and you) get! Check it out here.
2. DRAWPHONE — this is Telephone if it was done with drawing instead of whispering from person to person. In the end you’ll have a chain of hilarious guesses and (often) horrific doodles that are nothing like what they were supposed to be. Check it out here.
3. CODENAMES ONLINE — this is the digital version of the popular team-based board game! It’s available for free on their website here.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
I know we’re all missing our loved ones — even those in the next town over. My family moved three states away last year and I’m missing them like crazy as Christmas approaches. Our want for comfort and tradition naturally spikes around this time of year, even when there isn’t a global crisis. It’s hard. Really hard. But it’s temporary and more holidays will come. In the meantime, this year’s aren’t ‘cancelled’. They’re just different.
Also, it’s not where, but how we spend our time together that matters. I remember this anytime I video call my mom and dad in their new midwestern home. The same goes for my best friends living in Texas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and Vancouver. And so, with a full heart and wine glass, I’ll be spending my holiday safely and merrily in cyberspace with these wonderful people, playing real games and having real laughs and staying up way past my bedtime like I always do when Santa’s in town.
I hope you’ll do the same, and I hope you’ll be able to find something special in it, even if it’s not exactly what you’re used to.