Prepare stories and invite a dog: eight tips for surviving a Zoom Christmas

Set up a ‘Zoom room’ in your home

Your laptop screen will be a window into your soul this holiday season, so take advantage of the opportunity to make your life appear under control. An upside to any global pandemic is that you don’t have to clean up for guests. When it comes to messes, it’s “out of screen, out of mind”. Meanwhile, you can create an idealized – and/or completely false – vision of your home life: fill the area behind you with thick volumes of poetry, or hardcore exercise equipment, or the only plant you have ever managed to keep alive for more than a week.

Indulge your authoritarian streak

When more than three people are on a Zoom conversation, it either becomes a cacophony of indecipherable commentary or a series of long, painful silences. It may be helpful to establish an ironclad code of conduct: for example, the host first tells everyone what she’s been up to, then passes the conversation to a person of her choice to provide their own life update; that person chooses the next, and so on, until everyone has told everyone else that they have not been doing anything for the past nine months.

Prepare a story

Given our collective boredom, it may be useful to discuss something other than yourself. At Thanksgiving, I got a fair bit of mileage out of the tale of Gerald, Oakland’s killer turkey, telling the story in every Zoom conversation as if I’d just remembered it. You might also have a controversial animal in your neighborhood, or perhaps you’ve read something funny in the news, or maybe you’re living vicariously through Love Island and can just update people on that. And if you really have nothing going on …

Invite someone from Taiwan or New Zealand

They can tell you about what human interaction is like.

Bring a dog

Most dogs are unaware of the pandemic and can contribute a chipper mood to your Zoom chat, acting as a useful conversation piece and providing free entertainment.

When the going gets tough, let the conversation run free

Eventually, you’ll start to run out of uncontroversial topics like the weather and when you last got a haircut. But there is one perk to a Zoom Christmas: the mute button. Now you can dive into conversations about politics or acknowledge that the coronavirus is real without worrying about your conspiracy-theorist aunt holding court – just make sure she’s not the host.

Try e-wassailing

Perhaps you are familiar with the archaic carol-based bacchanalia known as wassailing, as described in the musical threat We Wish You a Merry Christmas (“We won’t go until we get some”). This year, the songs will sound even less angelic – but you’ll find out how John Cage might have arranged Jingle Bells, with each of your cousins several beats ahead of the next while your great-aunt and uncle loudly complain throughout that they can see you but can’t hear you. Another key part of wassailing is drinking heavily, which is likely to have numerous benefits during longer Zoom conversations.

Have something urgent to do an hour after the conversation starts

Escaping conversations in the era of Covid is a challenge. There’s no saying: “Well, I’ve got to run” when you’re already home and have nowhere to go, and your relatives are in the same predicament. If everyone is being polite, the conversation may never end. I have found it helpful to plan something firm – such as time-sensitive cooking or a supposed conversation with the other side of the family – for about 60 minutes after a digital gathering begins, or when your eyes start melting, whichever comes first.