“That smells like Thanksgiving,” my husband said as he walked out of the office into the kitchen.
“Stuffing done, just mashed potatoes, green beans and pumpkin pie to go,” I replied.
It was 8:30am on Thanksgiving Day, but we would have to hold off our cravings until the next day. Even though I was prepping and cooking all the delicious dishes on Thursday, we wouldn’t have time to sit down, relax, and enjoy them until Friday.
And it’s not because I work in retail. Ever since moving to Mexico and starting our online business — where we work with international clients — our holiday celebrations usually come on the weekends.
Even so, at 4pm US Central time, we Skyped my family in Tennessee to say hello as they enjoyed their Thanksgiving meal. We shared laughs, food cravings, and compared desserts. And even though I’ve been accustomed to not sharing the holiday in person since I left for college at 18, it still feels as if something is missing when you’re the only one not there.
So how do we stay connected from afar? Despite living in different countries? Despite celebrating on different days?
Through a stable internet connection and video call, of course. While we were using Skype and WhatsApp long before this year, these tools have definitely been added to many other families’ celebration plans this year. And for good reason. Because if you can’t physically be in the same place, a video call remains the second-best option.
Last Christmas, for example, my parents placed the tablet with our video call at the “head” of the table, and we felt like we were almost there, sharing in the laughs in real time.
And when real-time video calling isn’t an option, sharing videos of special moments also helps. I sent my mom a Mother’s Day gift last year, and my sister videoed her opening it at the restaurant together. My mom’s smile, reaction, and joy were captured in such a way that made me feel part of the experience. And her “thank you, Alicia” said into the camera let me hear her words, even if I had to watch it later.
Voice messages also capture something “extra” when texting isn’t cutting it and phone calls are difficult to coordinate. Playing back my sister’s voice after a long day of work fills me up, knowing she’s thinking of me no matter where we are. And, another added plus is that you can always re-listen to these precious gems whenever you want.
Over the past three years living in different countries, my parents, siblings, and I have become better photographers — trying to capture smaller moments to share with each other, so we stay connected. From showing a Packer football game on the TV screen or the view from the back porch, these small snapshots let us know we are thinking of each other.
Even though spontaneous communication may seem more genuine, don’t underestimate the value of planned appointments.
Just because scheduling phone chats or video calls may seem too formal, making an appointment with your family just means you are prioritizing communication.
Knowing each other’s schedules and working with them helps make sure you find the time when needed, especially if you’re living in different time zones. My parents and I have a Sunday night video call ritual, and my siblings and I check-in to see when is a good time to call — to make sure we catch each other when we each have time.
Planning for connections is especially important around the holidays, when we want to make the effort to continue making memories.
This year (2020) might not mean you and your family are in different countries, but it might mean that you are faced with the reality that you will not be present in the same place for holiday celebrations.
And I know that the holidays may not seem the same if you can’t all be in one room together, but know that family will find a way to stay connected.
No matter what your holiday season looks like this year, take it from someone who’s had to make it work for the past three years — the effort is important.
While sharing your family traditions might feel different from a distance, it is still possible. Stay connected. Keep making memories.