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Preparing for the holidays: Virtual ideas to help keep you and your family connected

From new recipes to an ugly Christmas sweater contest, there's plenty of fun holiday ideas you can do virtually to keep your favorite family traditions in tact.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — The holidays are just around the corner, and family gatherings will probably look a little different this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the changes, there are still plenty of fun holiday ideas you can do virtually to keep your loved ones safe and connected, while still keeping those family traditions in tact.

FOX43 spoke with Renee Patrone Rhinehart, of "Party Host Helpers," who says one way to get everyone into the holiday spirit, especially the kids, is through arts and crafts. 

You can mail the supplies and instructions for projects, like a paper plate turkey or homemade ornaments, to all the grandkids and cousins, along with a time to meet on Zoom or Skype. 

Then, have everyone log on during Turkey Day or Christmas day, and work together to create a masterpiece. 

Rhinehart says it's also a great way for parents to get a little break while they're cooking.

If you're hosting a virtual holiday dinner, there are a few important details to keep in mind. 

According to AARP.org, the best place to start involves sharing a detailed plan. Make sure everyone who is eating together knows when they should have their turkey ready. You can even schedule a rehearsal before Thanksgiving or Christmas to make sure family members who are less tech-savvy, are well-prepared when the big day rolls around. Health experts say virtual dinners are a good option for high-risk groups, like seniors and people with pre-existing conditions. And, before you dig into that holiday feast, you can have everyone go around the call and tell what they're thankful for.

If you're planning to host your holiday dinner in-person, the CDC recommends eating outside, weather-permitting, or in a well-ventilated area of your home. Rhinehart also suggests giving family members assigned seats. 

You can use little bottles of hand sanitizer with a name tag, and even add fun sayings, like "Give thanks, not germs." 

Rhinehart also says skip the china: now is not the year to bring out the best or fanciest dishes and flatware. She recommends using disposable plates and utensils. To make it a little more chic, you can wrap the forks and knives in napkins with twine and a little tag that says, "Thankful."

Whether your dinner is virtual or in-person, why not try a new recipe? Rhinehart says charcuterie party cups can make an excellent appetizer. Just take a clear or wonton cup and fill it with slices of cheese, rolled up meats, a pickle, and some nuts. And, Rhinehart says you can't forget about dessert. 

To make 12 mini no-bake pumpkin pies, get 12 prepared graham cracker pie crusts from your local grocery store. Mix together cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt, vanilla extract, one can of pumpkin puree, one can of condensed milk, and two eggs. Mix it all together on the stove, then pour it into the pie shells. Let it chill for three hours, or overnight, and top it with whipped cream or Cool Whip.

After dinner, you can get the whole family together for a virtual work-out class or yoga session to help relieve stress. And, maybe finish the day with a movie through group streaming services, like "Netflix Party."

On Christmas morning, use Skype or Zoom to wake up grandma and grandpa or the aunts and uncles, and open presents together. While everyone is signed in, take the opportunity to sing some carols together or have an ugly Christmas sweater contest.

Experts say no matter how you choose to celebrate, the important thing is to stay connected with your loved ones this holiday season.    

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