5 Virtual Party Ideas Inspired By World Holiday Traditions

Having trouble translating your traditions virtually? Want to try something new? Sample these fun ideas inspired by traditions from around the world.
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Sometimes people move away, and sometimes we miss a plane or train or just live too far to be with our loved ones for holidays, birthdays, and other party occasions. When we have to connect over the internet, it can be hard to make our favorite traditions work.

Whether you need some new traditions for digital holidays or are just looking to spice up a regular virtual gathering, here are five ideas inspired by holiday traditions from around the world:

1. Rap Battle

Inspired by: Mari Lwyd, Wales.

A horse skull on a pole with decorations and a white sheet hanging down
I'm not scared of Mari Lwyd, I promise. Image source

You need: your ‘A’ game, an app that can order alcohol, an optional horse mask, and the ability to drink legally.

Mari Lwyd (pronounced Mar-ee Loo-wid) is a Welsh tradition that involves a horse skull on a pole. This horse skull represents Mari Lwyd, translated as "Grey Mare," or "Grey Mary."

In some parts of Wales, you might look out around Christmas time to see this terrible specter at the window. If you do, you can expect to open your door to a group of revelers singing a rhyming song asking for entry to your house. Mari Lwyd, according to Wales.com, is puppeted during the song as though she were singing, trading “rude rhymes” with the owner of the home.

If Mary Lwyd wins, she is allowed to enter, stealing things and drinking the homeowner’s booze, but also granting good luck to the household for the next year. This tradition takes place during the winter and is all about sharing warmth and getting out a little pent up energy by being rowdy.

For a virtual take on the tradition, and to get out some rowdiness of your own, you can try a rap battle, but with a twist: whoever loses the round owes the other a drink. These can be tallied until it’s finally time to pay up using an alcohol delivery app, like GoPuff or Drizly. If you aren’t able to send alcohol, you can always turn this into a drinking game instead, with the loser of each round doing the drinking.

If you need inspiration for your rap battle, try making the raps about why participants should or shouldn’t drink, depending on how you’re playing the game. You can also spice things up even more by having one person play the terrifying Mari Lwyd by wearing a horse mask or using a Snapcam filter.

If you need help destroying your friends with amazing rhymes check out this video for lyrical inspiration:

2. Topiary Decorating

Inspired by: Spiderweb Trees, Ukraine.

A spider web on a branch
The webs aren't so bad when there aren't spiders on them. Image source

You need: Decorations and a wire topiary frame or something else to decorate.

In some parts of Ukraine, you may see Christmas trees decorated not with ornaments and a star, but with artificial spiderwebs. This tradition pays homage to a piece of Ukrainian folklore: the story of a family too poor to decorate their tree with ornaments, who woke Christmas morning to find their tree had been decorated by generous spiders. 

This begs the question: why do most of us decorate trees with ornaments? For that matter, why only at Christmas? In fact, my friend decorates a fabulous Halloween tree every year. It is lovely. And you can participate, too! Just find some streamers, paper cut-outs, string, scarves, paper scraps, wire, and even ornaments, and decorate a topiary frame!

Topiary frames are wireframes typically used to shape plants, but they're also used in holiday crafts all across sites like Pinterest. They typically don’t cost very much and can be found in a variety of shapes, from a traditional tree-like cone to a candy cane to a football. Just hop on a video call with your decorations and wireframe at hand and have fun showing off your decorating skills.

You can even make your own cone-shaped wireframe:

3. Veggie and Fruit Carving

Inspired by: Night of the Radishes, Mexico

Radishes
Fun fact: radishes are actually part of the cabbage family! Image Source

You need: Fruits or veggies to carve, a sharp paring knife, steady hands, and a kitchen you can video call from.

This activity's a bit more dangerous but can really help you with the presentation of party dishes you might make in the future. 

According to Atlas Obscura, La Noche de Rábanos, or The Night of the Radishes, is a tradition from Oaxaca, Mexico that dates back to the 1800s, when vegetable sellers would carve their wares into eye-catching shapes to make extra sales. 

Inspired by this tradition, you and your friends can try making your own incredible shapes out of fruits and vegetables with the help of tutorial videos like these:

If you're feeling confident, you can try some more shapes:

Or try a strawberry rose:

Try having everyone make the same shape and seeing who can come closest to the video. Typically participants in The Night of the Radishes are competing for a big prize, which you and your friends can also arrange if you’d like to get a little competitive.

4. Remembering the Lost

Inspired by: El Día de Los Muertos, Mexico

Sugar skulls for El Dia de los Muertos
Sugar skulls for El Día de los Muertos. Source

You need: your best stories, perhaps a favorite drink or food.

El Día de Los Muertos, or “The Day of the Dead,” is a two-day festival originating in Mexico in which the dead come back to celebrate with the living. It begins at 12 am on November first and continues until the end of November second. Over these two days, celebrations are held to welcome the dead, who are said to come back to visit during this time.

"The Day of the Dead is a holiday to remember loved ones by sharing a meal with them as one would when they were alive,” says a website dedicated to the holiday. 

Although anyone with Latin American roots likely celebrates El Día de Los Muertos already, it’s important to honor the people in our lives we’ve had to leave behind, even if they haven’t crossed over to the other side.

For a new holiday tradition, try honoring lost friends and family, including just those who’ve moved away or are absent from this gathering, by telling stories about the wildest or sweetest things you’ve done together while you and your friends share a meal. There additional benefits to trying out this new tradition: according to Mental Health America, sharing memories of those we've lost can help us work through grief.

One of my favorite things to do after a story is to toast and drink together; knocking one back at the same time makes it almost feel like you're all drinking in person. If you happen to be partying with people you don’t know that well, be sure to preface your story with who this person was to you so everyone can get invested and learn more about each other.

Glasses toasting
Cheers! Source

5. Book Sampler

Inspired by: Jólabókaflóð, Iceland.

Many, many books
Yes, that word has something to do with books. Image Source

You need: a book and a means to send it.

Jólabókaflóð, or “Yule Book Flood” is a yearly Yule-time happening in Iceland; each year, on Christmas Eve, many Iceland residents will receive a book as a gift. The tradition, according to NPR, is to open your book on Christmas Eve, and then spend the rest of the night reading. In fact, maybe thanks to this tradition, Iceland was reported to be the third most literate country in the world as of 2016, according to a study published in the Washington Post.

The bulk of Iceland's book sales come between September and December, in anticipation of Jólabókaflóð.

If you’re wondering how to pronounce the name of this incredible phenomenon, take a peek at this video:

To translate this virtually, you’ll want to assign each person another partygoer to buy and ship a book for. Plan so that everyone has time to receive their book before the party, then open them together! Once all books have been opened, you can do a little sampler by having each person read a few pages from their book. This way, everyone can add any book they like to their reading list (or update their wishlist for the next Jólabókaflóð)!

Don't be afraid to use fun voices; reading aloud over Zoom is one of my favorite things to do with friends, and the voices are what really make it!

A person smiling holding a book
Reading is fun alone or with friends! Image source

Now go have fun with your friends on the internet! Happy partying!

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

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