I have been contemplating what Christmas might look like since the end of summer, and, in more usual times, by about October our family arrangements for Christmas are set.
This year we are not so organised; we are waiting. Will travel abroad, even just across the Irish Sea, be possible; cross-county and cross-country even? Can we mix households? Will we be stuck within the 5km radius? Questions abound, but time waits for no-one and Christmas is hot on our heels.
Christmas traditions are like muscle memory, and if we can celebrate the way we have done, year in-year out for decades and generations, we will know what to do. Instead, I’m planning what happens if Christmas can’t be in person this year, and how to make it as fun and memorable as if everyone was in the room together, jovial over the turkey and ham. So, this year, instead of Driving Home for Christmas, I’m Zooming Home for Christmas!
We’ve spent all year preparing for an Online Christmas: Zoom Rooms, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime, Skype and Facebook Lives; Blackboard and Big Blue Button classrooms.
We’ve dropped in, hopped on, dropped out, reconnected and preceded each event with “Can you see me? Can you hear me? I think you’re on mute.”
The challenge with anything online is how to feel a part of something and not just a silent observer.
This gets even trickier when there is food and drink involved. Consider the reason for a Christmas Day feast: it’s about sharing food, drinks and stories, to celebrate making it through the year.
This will be the central theme of my Christmas 2020, and I’ll keep the cooking simple, and maybe even a touch unorthodox, so my time can be invested in the company of those closest to me: in the room and online.
Those Christmas traditions of old will be there next year and the one after that, but for this year, maybe have a go at sharing a virtual Christmas Feast with these ideas!
It’s rare to get an opportunity to shake up the well-loved Christmas dinner traditions, so let your imagination run wild! Swap turkey and ham for a rib roast of beef, venison wellington, poached side of salmon or a bejewelled Cauliflower Shawarma, and make sides the seasonal stars of the show.
Christmas is a great excuse to pull out a recipe you love to make, but only once a year: a recipe for potato stuffing, a crowd-winning way with Brussel sprouts or the ultimate Turkey Gravy Hack.
Whatever it is, pick a recipe and share it with each household so everyone can make it and share in eating the same thing — as if you were around the table together.
At any other time, we would tell each other off for having our phones and tablets with us at the table; but for Christmas Dinner 2020 I think we can make an exception. Agree a time for everyone to be ready to sit down for dinner, position your laptop, tablet or phone so everyone can be seen, and dial-in for dinner together, raise a glass and toast to a new and healthier year ahead.
If the logistics of having the same dinner cooked and ready to serve at the same time is too much for your family, then zoom in for an online cocktail hour instead. Be it a fancy cocktail, a well-chilled bottle of something suitably fizzy or something more traditional, like a Snowball, shake, stir, pour and cheers to your good health. Foxglove Cocktails of Baltimore do a delicious range of freshly made cocktail mixers for delivery, complete with garnishes, just add something boozy and shake!
Send a breakfast hamper of goodies over to members of your families and enjoy a virtual Festive Breakfast. Make it a Full Irish with The Clonakilty Collection from the makers of Ireland’s most famous black pudding.
Or create a Pancake Hamper with a dry pancake mix (just add milk and egg), with cinnamon sugar for sprinkling, or beautifully wrapped loaf of Barmbrack, made to a long-held family recipe ready for toasting with lashings of butter.
Every year, without fail, my mother in law makes the most decadent Christmas cake, laden with fruits and very, very boozy. Dense and preserved beyond measure (thanks to the alcohol!), cakes like this, if packed up well, will be just fine in the post for a couple of days.
Christmas puddings, steamed puddings, tea cakes and festive-spiced biscuits in a tin are all good options. Maybe pop in a small jar of homemade jam, chocolate or caramel sauce, or a syrup for an extra bit of pizazz!
For the past few years, we have taken to gifting vouchers, surprise hotel getaways and tickets to gigs, events and festivals. Those things are still possible, of course, although with hefty caveat of ‘subject to cancellation or postponement’, so this year I’ll be sending hampers of decadent, luxury foods and drinks made up of beautifully made artisan foods.
If you have time, consider making homemade presents. This can be handmade breads, cakes, tempered and flavoured chocolates and biscuits; jams, chutneys, cordials and syrups made throughout the year from homegrown or foraged wild foods.
Opening presents online will help to keep that sense of Christmas going, but before you do, fill up a glass with something indulgent — a drop of apple brandy? Maybe I’ll open that Cherry Liqueur I bottled earlier in the year, poured over ice in a crystal tumbler.
If, after all that food, those cocktails, the pudding and gifts, you have some energy left about you, rather than retire like an over-stuffed lump in front of the television, keep it going with some silly games!
Most of us took part in a zoom quiz of some kind earlier in the year and it’s a format that works really well online. For the adults in the room, a quick game of Cards Against Humanity are a hoot, as well as Bingo and Pictionary. Because I have a deeply mischievous streak, I like playing a humming game with a wonderfully forgiving friend of mine who doesn’t have a note in their head. Free belly laughs all round, and no one will win of course, but that’s beside the point!
Have a Happy Online Christmas, Everyone!