30 Ideas For Virtual Holiday Parties When You Can't Be Home Around Your Family And Friends

Sometimes it's hard to connect long-distance, especially with kids, or with your grandma who doesn't "get" technology. Give these ideas a try.
Man waving to video chat on red background
Video chats are great for seeing a friendly face or two!
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Whether you're in a long-distance relationship, traveling abroad, or quarantining during a special holiday you're sure to miss the warmth of family and friends gathering 'round. Fear not! Thanks to video and voice calls, you can connect online with the whole family, or even just your friends wintering in Florida. Here are some ideas for what to do during virtual gatherings with anyone, no matter their age or level of tech-wizardry.

Activities for the Tech-Challenged to celebrate their holidays virtually

Man screeching at computer
Not every virtual activity requires frustrating tech-wrangling! 
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Some of us have fallen a little behind on the latest technology, and some of us can't be bothered to catch up! In this digital age can we still include mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, and your computer-challenged friend Dan? Yes, we can!

Here are ten things you can do over video or voice calls with people who struggle with technology:

1. Truffle Tasting

You have to prepare this one ahead of time, but it can double as a holiday gift! Just buy yourself and your loved one matching boxes of truffles and send one their way. On your holiday chat, try eating the same truffles at the same time and talking about the flavors; a University of Chicago study has shown that just eating the same food as someone else can strengthen your bond with them.

Godiva, Simply Chocolate, and Harry and David are just some of the companies that can help you ship some truffles out!

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2. Care Package

This idea also takes some preparation, but you can pair it with a holiday gift and ship it all out together! Just pack a box with things that will make your loved one feel cared for and send it to them, then do a live opening!

Try these care package suggestions:

  • A cozy blanket
  • Slippers in their favorite color
  • Hot chocolate mix
  • Popcorn
  • Holiday candy 
  • A hand-made card
  • Hand warmers
  • A festive hat
  • A coloring book
  • A cute stuffed animal

Some companies, like Dollar Tree, will even let you build a care package on their website!

A package that says
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3. Cooking Together

You'll need to buy some ingredients and video chat from the kitchen for this one! Just choose a festive classic, or maybe something new, and cook it together from different kitchens over video. 

Soups and baked goods are great ideas for cooking together since you can spend all that downtime chatting! 

A parent and child cooking together
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4. Charades

Why not play a classic game of charades over video chat? Try starting with one of these suggestions from an online idea generator:

  • Al Pachino
  • Chinatown
  • Radiohead
  • Johnny Depp
  • The Beatles
  • Toy Story 3

If you've never played charades, here are the rules: 

Charades are typically played in teams. 

First, each team will elect a score-keeper (or a single scorekeeper can keep track of both teams) and choose someone to time the current round. Typically rounds last three minutes.

One team will go first, sending one person up to receive the Charades suggestion. That person will try to communicate- completely silently- what the suggested word or phrase is to their team before the round's timer runs out. If their team guesses correctly, the team gets a point.

Play then passes to the second team, who tries to guess their word within three minutes. You can choose any number of points to play to, though it's most fair if the winning team has to win by two points.

Charades might sound hard, but there are some gestures built into the game to help everyone out. 

If you want to see what it looks like to play Charades, here's Gal Godot and Miley Cyrus playing some intense 30-second rounds with Jimmy Fallon and Tariq Trotter: 

5. Virtual Photo Album

This activity is really sweet and is great to do with older relatives that have a lot of photos on their computer or phone. All you need to do is get on a video or voice call and open a group message with all the participants. The group message is easy to do over Facebook, text message, or any other messaging service where you can send pictures.

Have members of the group share old photos to the messaging thread and tell the stories behind them, kind of like going through a family photo album. My friends and I have done this on a call and we were laughing for hours.

Photos in a box
Keeping photos on your computer saves you some boxes.
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6. Show and Tell

This game is actually a storytelling exercise, but it's really easy. Start a video chat with your loved ones, and have each person bring an object that means something to them.

One by one, each person tells the story of their object. During the story, any time someone wants to know more about what was just said, they can say "more," and the storyteller must elaborate (if they're comfortable doing so).

This is a great way to learn interesting things about your friends and family. You'll never look at their household objects the same way!

A person holding a snowglobe with a dreidel inside
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7. Wine Tasting

This one requires some wine-buying, but it's really fun and can double as a gift for them and you. Try shipping out a few bottles of wine that you've also bought yourself, then drink them together over video! Use big, fancy wine words to talk about those delicious fermented grapes. 

If you really want to know what to look for in a wine, check out this guide to wine tasting: 

8. Trivia

Who doesn't like trivia? Try quizzing your friends and family using questions like these! Just choose a category and pick a question, then click the question to see the answer. 

If you want to play a whole trivia game, here's an idea for playing over a video call: 

First, divide into two teams. If you're on a site where you can change your names, it might be helpful to add a "1" or "2" after your name to show your team affiliation. 

Have a different team each round elect a "judge" to choose and read the question. Once the question is read, if a player thinks they have the answer they can call out "beep," "buzz," or some other predetermined sound. The judge determines who "buzzed" first, and that person has a chance to answer the question. If they succeed, they get a point. If they fail, the other team can try to answer correctly. If both teams fail, the answer is read and no point is awarded that round. 

Play to any number of points; just remember to keep track!

Sandwich board that says
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9. People-Watching with Earthcam

Sometimes you just want to talk and be occasionally interrupted by someone on the street doing something weird. Since you can't people-watch together from the same window, try doing it through an internet window with Earthcam

It's great talking material: what's that guy doing? What are those people carrying? Is it starting to snow? Enjoy having all the visual stimulation of the outdoors without having to brave the weather!

A panoramic image of Times Square
Image from Earthcam.

10. Virtual Museum Tour

Okay, this one requires some pointing-and-clicking, but it's super worth it to see amazing museums like New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Paris's Musee d'Orsay, or Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum. Thanks to Google's Street View service, museums like these are open to the public for virtual tours!

Just follow the museum link and click where you want to walk! You can click-and-drag to pan the camera and use the sidebar to choose which floor to visit. Enjoy traveling from your living room!

Image of the Guggenheim museum's many floors
The Guggenheim Museum. Image source


Activities for Children and High-Energy Friends to celebrate their holidays virtually

A person with long hair jumping high
Sometimes you just can't sit still!

Some of us need a little more stimulation to keep our attention, which can be hard to get over the internet. How do we captivate our kiddos and our friends with short attention spans?

These ten activities will engage even the wildest child (or adult) in your life:

11. Create-A-Story

This easy improv game starts with a topic from a random generator and ends with giggles. Together, you build a goofy story that's sure to get out some of that silly energy. Here's how to play over video or voice chat:

First, number everyone off to determine the turn order. If you can change people's names on the voice or video chat it helps to add your number next to your name. Next, generate a random word; this is the inspiration for your story! The first person says the first word of the story, then the next person says the next word, and so on until you've made a masterpiece.

This game is most fun if you play it as fast as you can!

Three people dressed in pink laughing with a pink iphone
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12. Dance Party

Whether you've been cooped up inside or just need to get some endorphins flowing, a dance party is great for connecting with friends.

If you and your friends have premium accounts on Spotify or have Apple Music you can listen to music together using Vertigo's app! It works on Android or iOS and even lets your Apple Music and your friend's Spotify sync up to play the same songs! Just download the app, sign up, find your friends by searching their name or username, hit "Start Party," invite them, and listen together! 

If you don't have a premium streaming account there are still some options for synchronized listening: you can try syncing up a song by counting down and having everyone start it at the same time. You'll likely have to do this for every song, so you should try choosing something long, like Yes's "Roundabout."

Another option is to have one person play some loud music over their mic; it won't be pretty, but it's usually still danceable! You can also all play different music and watch everyone dance to their own beat.

Don't forget to mute or use headphones to prevent echo!

Woman singing and dancing with headphones on
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13. Scavenger Hunt

Kids will love this game. You can split into teams or just play free-for-all.

Each round will have a new judge who will stay at their computer this round (if you're doing teams, choose a judge from a different team each time). The round's judge will choose what the players have to find, like "something red" or "something shiny." The judge awards a point to the first person to return from the mad scramble with an object that fits the category. Depending on how long you want the game to go, you can try capping it at 3, 5, or 10 points.

Woman at her computer while kids run in the background
Judging the round is tough, but someone has to do it.
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14. Google Earth Adventure

Can't be traveling together but still want to see the world? Try using MapCrunch for Google Earth! You can check out different Google Earth locations, like this amazing overlook in Taiwan, this chateau in France, and this nature park in New Zealand. Discover your own random location by hitting "go," then just share and begin your adventure! 

Once you've landed somewhere cool, click around the screen to "walk" and click and drag to look around. Try having one friend act as a tour guide by looking up the location and reading off some facts while everyone explores!

Château de Chenonceau, a castle-like building spanning across a body of water
The aforementioned Château de Chenonceau in France.
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15. Ghost Story Art

This one is for the family who likes to get a little creepy together. Just search for kids' scary stories and read them out loud to each other. Anyone who isn't reading has until the end of the story to make an illustration to go with it, then everyone shows off their art before the next tale.

Doing art is a great way to make memories, and studies have shown that it helps with anxiety, so you can use it to tame your holiday stress.

This activity can be fun with any kind of story, but ghost stories are my favorite.

A drawing of Frankenstein's monster
"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" promised me "scary ghost stories," and dang it, I want them!
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16. Left Hand Larry

Left Hand Larry is another easy party game that comes from improv. One person is chosen to judge the game, and they start by naming a category and then calling out the name of a player, who must name something that fits in the category. The judge keeps naming players, who must each give an answer for the category that hasn't been said until the judge is displeased with an answer or changes the category.

If someone's answer displeases the judge or has already been said, that player puts a hand up, and play continues. Once a player has both hands up, they are eliminated! The judge can announce a category change at any time.

This game is most fun if you change categories often and go as fast as possible.

Woman raising her hand
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17. Read and Color

This activity is similar to "Ghost Story Art," but is fun as a recurring event! My friends and I love to have one person read a novel over several video calls while we do arts or crafts. It brings us together and gives us something cool to talk about afterward.

I prefer reading from a physical book, but if you don't have a good one on hand The Gutenberg Project has thousands of free books to choose from.

Child and parent coloring
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18. Get Crafty

Making a craft is a great activity for those with restless hands. If you need some crafts to do (maybe while someone reads to you), try learning some together with a synchronized video! You'll need to choose the craft and buy supplies ahead of time, then just use the YouTube with Friends Chrome add-on to check out a tutorial together.

To use YouTube with Friends, just have everyone download the free Chrome extension, then find the extensions menu at the top of the Chrome browser and pin YouTube with Friends for easy access.

To watch a video, head to YouTube, choose your video, and click the YouTube with Friends icon you pinned. Choose "start the party," share the link with your friends, and have them click the YouTube with Friends icon after following the link. Now you can watch it together!

Try something easy like this duct tape rose, or something festive like a paper star, which makes a great ornament! 

If you want to watch more than one video in a row, check out the next idea on the list for an explanation of Watch2Gether!

19. Watch2Gether Karaoke

This one takes a little setup, but it's worth it, especially if you've been feeling out of sorts this holiday season; singing has been proven to release chemicals in your brain that reduce stress, increase trust, and even help with depression. If you want to do some video chat karaoke, try queueing up songs using Watch2Gether. Here's how:

Create a room, click "invite friends," and send out the link! You'll see the users that have joined at the bottom, and if you're not happy with your randomly generated username, just click on the name to change it.

To add videos, use the drop-down menu at the top to choose a video site, then search for a karaoke version of your song! Add videos to the player from the search results by clicking on them. Or, if you already have a video link, just paste it into the search bar.

You can even save your room for the future by creating a free account! 

Child singing
Image source

20. Draw Together Online

Now, maybe you like to draw but would rather do it together. Thanks to the internet, you can do that, too! Here are a few different ways to make art together online: 

  • For a simple doodling option, try Draw Chat. You can create your own whiteboard and share it with friends using the link beneath your board. The web app lets you draw with all sorts of pen colors and add text and shapes!
  • For anyone with a little digital art experience, Aggie.io is sure to excite. You can add different layers, use different brushes, and the application boasts "native stylus support on Windows 8, Windows 10, and Mac." It's not as advanced as Photoshop or Illustrator, of course, but it's still hugely fun. Just click "start drawing" and then choose "invite" in the upper right corner. Share the link and your friends can hop right in.
  • If you want something a little different, try using Canva to create! There hundreds of free assets and templates you can use to create cool, bold designs. Maybe you'll make an awesome poster to hang in your room!

Once you've made a free account just start creating a new design, find the "share" button on the top menu, and either send an email or copy and share the link to bring in your collaborators (make sure the permissions are set so that people with the link can edit). 

Person drawing on tablet
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Activities for Your Other Adult Friends to celebrate the holiday season virtually

A few people toast wine glasses
We get by with a little help from our cool adult friends.
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Maybe you've got some friends who want to gather for a video hang but are bored of Jackbox games, Among Us, and Netflix Parties. Here are some unique virtual party activities to make your friends say "I've never done this before!"

21. Fall into a YouTube Hole

Do you like exploring new ideas? Not only is it great for karaoke, but Watch2Gether can take you and your friends down a rabbit hole of new interests together.

In the old days of YouTube, it was easier to end up on weird corners of the internet; today algorithms have changed and recommended videos are less strange. However, you can still get into that weird video wonderland; all you need to do is queue up one video, then try the following.

  • Word Search: After watching your first video, choose a weird word that was mentioned in the video or its title, and search that on YouTube. Choose the most interesting video you see in the results, watch, and then do it all over again.
  • Name Search: Who worked on that thing you just watched? For most popular videos it's easy to find out; a quick Google search of the creator's name can usually tell you more about them. Maybe they were born in a town you've never heard of. See what happens when you search it on YouTube. If you need more weird searches, keep listening for names. If you hear one, boom; that's your next YouTube search. Using a combination of YouTube and Wikipedia you can go down rabbit holes Alice could only dream of.
  • Question Search: YouTube is one of the most-used search engines on the internet, probably because it has an enormous amount of content. If you, or one of your friends, can think of a question about something from your first video it's almost guaranteed that one more YouTube search can give you an answer. Just add a video from your new search to the queue, rinse and repeat.
A phone with YouTube open
Stay curious, friends.
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22. The Wedding Game

Despite its name, you don't actually have to marry to play this game, though it's more fun if you're dating or really close. 

To start, everyone chooses a partner they think they know well. Each round one person will read off a question that compares you two. (I.e. "who is clumsier" or "who would win in a fight?") After the question is read, everyone closes their eyes and the reader of the question counts down from five; during this time, everyone has a choice to make: if you think you are the answer to the question, you raise your hand, and if not, you keep it down. When the countdown is over, everyone opens their eyes, and points are awarded. 

Your team gets a point any time you and your partner agree, with only one of you raising a hand. You may want to have one person keep score for everyone or, if you're more trusting, have each partner pair keep track of their own.

The game ends when you reach a certain number of points (ten is recommended) or when you run out of questions. 

Here are some question suggestions:

Who spends more on holiday gifts? | Who drinks more at parties? | Who has better hair? | Who would be more likely to take over the world? | Who makes worse jokes? | Who is a better dancer? | Who laughs more? | Who has weirder hobbies? | Who cooks better?

My favorite question when we played over Zoom was "who farts more?"

Woman raising her hand
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23. Tarot Reading

Sometimes it can feel a little frightening to go into a new year, not knowing what the future will hold. A tarot reading might give you new insight, or just give you a fun event to have at your next holiday gathering. 

There are many tarot readers that do readings for virtual parties, including Tarot Lori, Sherrie Lynne, and my personal favorite, Inner Iris Tarot.

A hand holding tarot cards
Tarot, like horoscopes, can sometimes tell you things you knew subconsciously but had no words for.
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24. Image Search Contest 

This is a great game to play with new friends or old. All you need is a group chat where you can post images and a search engine.

The rules are simple: just have one person (the judge) name a category and set a timer for one minute. Everyone else must race the timer to find the perfect image to submit for judgment, and send it to the group chat. Once all players have posted an image, or if the timer runs out, the judge chooses the picture that fits the category best. (I.e. "cutest dog," or "weirdest house.") 

The judge of the next round is the winner of the last round so no one can win twice in a row! Play to as many points as you like.

A cute dog in a tea cup
No fair using this for the game; that's cheating.
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25. Cheers, Governor!

Bring out your favorite holiday-appropriate drink and get ready to go on a journey. In this game, you count up to 21 together, going person to person, with each person saying the next number. Anyone who messes up drinks and starts the count over. Choose your order and remind everyone to remember who goes before them. The game starts with two rules:

  • "7" and "14" are switched, meaning after "6," you should say "14," then continue with "8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 7, 15..."
  • When you reach 21, everyone says "cheers, governor!" and drinks.

Each round, the person who counted "21" gets to make a rule for a new number, like: "instead of saying three, do a dance." The game ends when every number has a rule, and you make it to "21" one last time without messing up!

People toasting with glasses of beer
Cheers, governor!
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26. Spyfall

If you and your friends love Among Us but want something even more interactive, this is for you. Below is a video of a few YouTubers explaining and playing this fun deception game, which has a new website here.

This game takes about ten minutes to learn and is hours of fun.

Here's a rundown of the basic rules from Spyfall's site, or you can just skip to the video:

What you need to play:
4-10 people.
All in same room or same Zoom call
Each has their own phone, computer, or tablet.

Game objectives:
The spy: try to guess the round's location. Infer from others' questions and answers.
Other players: figure out who the spy is.

Gameplay flow:
Round length: 6-10 minutes. Shorter for smaller groups, longer for larger.
The location: round starts, each player is given a location card. The location is the same for all players (e.g., the bank) except for one player, who is randomly given the "spy" card. The spy does not know the round's location.
Questioning: the game leader (person who started the game) begins by questioning another player about the location. Example: ("is this a place where children are welcome?").
Answering: the questioned player must answer. No follow up questions allowed. After they answer, it's then their turn to ask someone else a question. This continues until round is over.
No retaliation questions: if someone asked you a question for their turn, you cannot then immediately ask them a question back for your turn. You must choose someone else.

Players guessing the spy:
Putting up for vote: at any time, a player can try to indict a suspected spy by putting that suspect up for vote. They must say "I'd like to put (player x) up for vote." Then go one by one clockwise around the circle, and each player much cast their vote if they're in agreement to indict.
Vote must be unanimous to indict: the vote must be unanimous to indict the suspect: if any player votes no, the round continues as it was. Each person can only put a suspect up for vote once per round. Use it wisely!
Spy is indicted: if a player is indicted, they must reveal whether or not they are the spy and the round ends.

Spy guessing the location:
Spy guesses: at any time, the spy can reveal that they are the spy and make a guess at what the location is. The round immediately ends.

Round ends when:
Indictment: group successfully indicts a player after voting OR
Spy guesses: spy stops the round to make a guess about the location OR
No time left: clock runs out

27. Cards Against Humanity Online

When you can't play this infamous party game in person, try this online alternative.

Just choose which server you and your friends will use (make sure it's not too full), choose a name, create a game, scroll down and create a password so no one unexpected joins, and choose which card packs you want to use. Your friends can search for your game by its name, and once everyone's joined you can start! It's that easy! 

If you've somehow avoided playing Cards Against Humanity until now, don't worry; it's easy to learn! Everyone starts out with ten white cards. Each round there is one judge, who draws and reads a black card with a prompt. Everyone else chooses one white card or multiple depending on what the black card calls for to fill in the blanks on the card or match its prompt. Then the judge chooses their favorite submission and that person gets a point.

Cards Against Humanity card
This is such a specific stock photo.
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28. Closet Costume Contest

This one might help you find your new look by forcing you to ransack your closet or suitcase. While it will mess up your room a bit, there is also a chance that it will help you have a fashion breakthrough.

Have everyone video call from the room they keep their clothes in and have a five-minute timer ready. At the start of each round, generate a random costume idea, and start the timer. You all have five minutes to create a costume that fits the prompt using only what you have in your current wardrobe. When the timer goes off, of course, it's time for the catwalk portion; show off your masterpiece! Take lots of pictures; these will be funny to look back on, I promise.

Hangers on a tension rod
Oh, closet, you have no idea what you're in for.
Image source

29. Stalk Each Other On Facebook/Insta

This one is especially fun with people you know well. Just start a group text chat and go through each other's images on social media. Find an image, post to the text chat, and discuss. It's a great way to learn new stories about old friends!

A phone with social media pictures on the screen. They are mostly pictures of cacti.
Let's dig up those eighth-grade photos.
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30. Holiday Roast

No, I don't mean a turkey. This holiday, it's time for you to roast your friends.

A roast is a session of play-insulting, someone, until they're "burned" to a crisp. If your friends fancy themselves, comedians, this will be right up their alley. If all that sounds good to you, here's a little bit of setup you'll want to do first:

Before your roast, choose who is going to be in the hot seat; this should be a person who is able to laugh things off easily, and maybe even fire back occasionally. According to eHow, this person may make a list of any subjects they don't feel comfortable joking about and share it so the roasters know what to stay away from. You can also choose someone who is going to host; this should be someone willing to mediate and keep things fun. 

Roasters should be people who know the roasted person well, and they should give some thought to what they're going to say before the big day.

On the day of the roast, choose in what order the roasted person's friends will go. The host of the roast can set a 3-minute timer for each roaster if you want to keep things moving. Everyone gets to take shots at each other, as long as it all stays fun and good-natured. 

If you need an example, here is the legendary roast of Justin Bieber on Comedy Central (caution; this is not kid-friendly):

Even when you can't be home for the holidays, you can bring that homey feeling straight to your heart through video chats and fun online adventures with the ones you love. Happy holidays, wherever they may be!

A graduate from Knox college, Jay is a writer, podcaster, horror nerd, thespian, and a lover of camp and camping.

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