Remember when family overcame every imaginable obstacle to gather together at the holidays? Babies with tummy troubles, kiddies missing school before vacation began, busy business people abandoning boardrooms to score decent airfares? The holidays can be a real headache, especially when trying to honor time worn traditions (and taking into account expensive airfares for your entire brood). But really, it is a small world after all: the global community and this awesome thing called the internet means we can create new customs with our loved ones near and far. Here are some ideas to keep the holiday spirit alive with your family and friends, even if you don’t live in the same city, or even state.

Digital Diaries
What’s little nephew Max who just started walking getting into when he thinks no one’s watching? And how’s Aunt Beatrice hangin’? Grandma isn’t the only one interested in seeing the year in photos. Turn iPhone photos into a yearbook, with every family member designing a page. Initiate the project with an email, asking for a single shot or a half dozen to be added to a virtual album that you can create. Archiving services such as Shuttterfly and Snapfish offer online layouts making assemblage a snap, and of course, iPhoto has an option to create a variety of albums, from collages to calendars (try one with everyone supplying theme photos for a month, and snapshots of each person on the dates of their birthdays). Once completed, you can share the results via email, or print the project as gifts to each.

Skype Supper
Technology renders it possible for family dinner with kiddos in Ketchum and Nana in New York, or Nepal for that matter. We’re all connected, so how about a modern spin on “TV dinner?” Set up a laptop, or a large monitor at the head of the table and do a group Skype during a banquet. Each person at the table can take a turn talking directly to his/her favorite cousin or keep it going as a conference, complete with after-dinner caroling or dreidel session.

The Greening of Gift Exchanges
Whether Secret Santa or ‘Mystery Maccabee’ (for Hanukkah observers), 21st century gift exchanges enable the purchase of leg warmers on our smartphones in bed at midnight.  While the little ones may get gifts from every cousin, aunt and Dutch uncle, it’s cost-effective and environmentally friendly to pick names out of a proverbial hat. One person volunteers to be the ‘know-it-all’ and randomly picks for everyone, emails to let each person know who they’re buying for – and the rest can be done from the privacy of your keyboard. Setting spending limits that are easy on the wallet make happy credit card bills in the New Year.

Video Greetings
Save time and money with a short video message to the peripatetic and far-flung relatives you’re missing. Grab a smartphone or soon-to-be-collector’s-item Flip camera and record a short holiday hello to your favorite niece or homebound grandparent. Each recording may be personalized, be it a birthday dress that little Lulu received or adding mood music.  Email it or if the file’s too big, check out YouSendIt.com or other file sharing sites to ensure proper delivery.

How does your family stay in touch during the holiday season?

— Kim Orchen Cooper

photos courtesy of: MissMessieJoe ShlabotnikIntelFreePress, & chimothy27