Smart Living | Lifestyle

Lifestyle | 23 Nov 2022

Feel the connection this Christmas with a little digital help

From baking to carolling, playing games to storytelling, there are lots of ways to connect with the people you love over the holiday period, in person or remotely with the aid of tech. And science says it's good for us!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Especially as celebrating Christmas and the festive season with your family is scientifically proven to be good for you, whatever your age.

“The sociologist Émile Durkheim used the term ‘collective effervescence’ to describe the positive mood we feel when we take part in social activities that bring collective joy and make us feel part of a bigger community,” explains Nilufer Ahmed, a lecturer in social sciences at the University of Bristol.

So what are you waiting for? Gather your family, in person or on the iPad, and feel yourself light up like a Christmas tree.

Choose the perfect tree

In 2016, analysis of three separate studies found that families who create and celebrate rituals together are more likely to get together at major holidays, and more likely to enjoy those holidays, too.

These rituals don’t have to be complicated. Start with a family outing to find just the right tree. More and more farms across the UK now offer a ‘pick your own’ service. Bundle up warm and wander through the rows of growing trees, sniffing the scent of pine and searching for one that’s the perfect shape for your sitting room.

If you’re struggling to find a farm near you, the searchable database on can help.

Warble your way to a winter wonderland

photo of the annual Christmas Carol Singalong at the South Bank Centre

According to a study from the University of Oxford, singing in a group makes people feel close to each other faster than other creative group activities (like crafting, for example, or creative writing). So find yourself a carol singing session, gather your nearest and dearest and open your lungs.

For the ultimate experience, book tickets for the Royal Festival Hall’s Christmas Carol Sing-a-long on 10 December, where the London Concert Orchestra will accompany you as you belt out O Little Town of Bethlehem.

Make a montage

According to Jennifer Mason at the University of Manchester, Christmas traditions help families mark the passage of time. Doing something that makes a particular moment or month stand out from the rest of the year creates a staging post around which memories are indexed and family histories take shape.

You can double down on that memory making every Christmas by sifting through your photos from the past year and making an album to share with relatives.

Lots of companies (like Snapfish or Photobox) will transform your smartphone shots into a hardback album, to be wrapped and placed under the tree, or sent to relatives who can’t be there on the day.

Share stories of Christmas past

What was Christmas like for Grandpa, in the era before iPads or even – whisper it – Minecraft?!

There’s no better way to ensure a rapt young audience than sharing stories of the bad/good old days.  A 2016 study from Stanford University found that bringing old and young generations together has benefits for both.

“There is growing reason to think that older people may be just the resource children need,” its authors found.

As we age, our complex problem-solving and emotional skills actually improve, making us great listeners and advisers to the younger generation.

Meanwhile, “older adults… seek – and need – purpose in their lives.” Nurturing and entertaining young relatives can provide exactly this.

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Looking for ways to get outside and into the crisp, cool Autumn air? From foraging to craft projects, we’ve got just the thing.

So get the family cosy, provide hot drinks and snacks, and take it in turns to tell the story of your best, or worst, Christmas ever.

Cook up some Christmas nostalgia

Smells are like time machines – catch a whiff of a mince pie, and you are transported straight back to childhood Christmases.

That’s because scents hit the olfactory bulb (a neural structure at the front of the brain), then travel directly to the limbic system, where emotion and memory are processed. It follows that there are few better ways to foster Christmas memories than developing and recreating family recipes.

If your family is spread far and wide, making it hard to get the grandparents under the same roof as the grandkids, ask an older relative to share their favourite festive recipe in a Zoom cooking lesson.

Gather your ingredients, then prop your tablet, phone or laptop up somewhere safe from splashes, and watch as Grandma or Grandpa teaches the kids some new (and tasty) tricks.

Game with Great Aunt Elsie

If you have relatives with mobility issues, parlour games can leave them feeling left out. Gaming may not immediately spring to mind as an alternative, but don’t dismiss it out of hand.

For a start, gaming can be done from the comfort of your chair or sofa. The experience can even be shared remotely (with relatives joining in from their own homes).

Evidence suggests gaming has unrecognised benefits when it comes to bringing families together. One study even shows that the more frequently family members play video games together, the better family satisfaction and family closeness they have.

If you are really worried about the over-70s’ conversion rate, you could always meet halfway with online Scrabble.

Even so, it is worth inviting more mature relations to join you at the gaming console. Andy Robertson, author of Taming Gaming, recommends Stray on PlayStation 4 and 5, for multi-generational gaming: “Everyone loves playing [as] a cat, but also you need to explore and solve puzzles.

“It’s rated PEGI 12 but played together in a family it’s both exciting and accommodating of a range of skills.”

So however you meet up this festive period – in-person or online – enjoy the positive impact that the season of togetherness can have on everyone’s health and wellbeing.

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