20 Dec 2023

How to Have a Merry Mobile Christmas

As the holiday season fast approaches, we turn our thoughts to the ways in which digital technology has had an impact on our Christmas traditions.

Many of us, faced with the rising costs of postage, are choosing to send digital greetings rather than cards this Christmas. Perhaps we are choosing e-cards, are sending out Christmas emails, posting on social media, or relying on texts and WhatsApps to communicate our good wishes to friends and family. There are myriad ways of communicating at this busy time of year and people are becoming increasingly tolerant of alternatives to the traditional Christmas card. However, you must be discriminating about who you choose to address in this way. Older generations might still value Christmas cards, however expensive they may be, and are less likely to feel comfortable with new technology and innovative ways of communicating.

Controlling Mobile Use

What of Christmas Day itself? Mobile phones have become an integral part of our everyday lives and they need to be accommodated during the holiday season. While everyone will appreciate the ability to stay in touch with friends and relations, share Christmas highlights, enjoy taking and sending photographs and so on, there will be many people who are disconcerted by the ubiquity of phones, especially at the festive table.

We owe a lot of our Christmas fantasies to Charles Dickens and the Victorians, and it is hard to reconcile our image of the convivial Dickensian table with the sight of a 21st-century family poring over their phones as the turkey congeals on the plate. If that prospect makes you shudder, you will need to address the question of phones before the big day.

Children and teenagers are compulsive phone-users, so it is a good idea to lay down some rules well in advance and explain that Christmas is a very special time of year and therefore there is going to be a rule that no phones are allowed at the dining table, or when everyone is involved in family activities, such as playing games. Make it a communal challenge, and perhaps impose a jokey sanction each time you spot a phone being used (eg the offender must do the drying up or clear up the wrapping paper etc). Perhaps the person who has gone longest without toying with their phone could get a prize. Try and get the whole family involved and make it into a Christmas game.

When it comes to older relations and guests, it might be a good idea to just grasp the nettle. You can say something like “we’re going to be sitting down to lunch at about 2 o’clock, and as it’s a special day I’m imposing a blanket ban on mobiles at the table!” You might allow a brief moratorium when you bring in the Christmas turkey, so that everyone can take photographs of the table and guests but be very strict about insisting that phones are put away immediately. As the Christmas host, who has probably put heroic efforts into making the day a success, you are perfectly entitled to lay down the law, and your guests should accept your diktats with good grace.

Accept that, at other times over the Christmas period, when everyone is just enjoying the aftermath of the present bonanza, or playing with new gifts etc, the phones will inevitably come out. Don’t fight it at those times, just save your firepower for the important moments.

Christmas Calls

Mobile phones are a great way of keeping in touch with absent friends and relations on Christmas Day, and many people will enjoy a festive phone call. Bear in mind that everyone has a different festive routine, and it is hard to know when they will be eating, opening presents, playing games, out for a walk etc., so it is best to prearrange a Christmas phone call, and ask when a convenient time would be to call, rather than just ringing when the mood takes you and interrupting a cherished moment of the day.

If the call is to a whole family, it’s probably best if the phone is passed to each individual member, rather than expecting everyone to cluster around. If you’re receiving the call in a noisy room, with lots of excited children, it would be a good idea to take it somewhere else to chat as the caller may find you barely audible. Remember that, if the caller is on their own, a hubbub of excited chatter and barely audible remarks is not going to be a very satisfactory backdrop and may make them feel lonely and isolated. So, make time to focus on Christmas calls, away from distractions.

Facetime is much more disruptive, since most people spend Christmas Day gathered in the same room and – unless you use headphones or earbuds – the call will be half-audible to everyone. So, if you do decide to have a Facetime call, it is probably best to take it in another room, perhaps warning the rest of your family that you will be doing so. Once again, it’s best to bring other family members into the call on an individual basis, rather than all trying to cluster, half-visible, around a small screen.

Annoying Phone Habits

Don’t turn into a Christmas paparazzo, constantly arranging your family into group shots, and taking ages to get the lighting and composition right. While nobody objects to the occasional photo or selfie, constantly having to get out of chair in which you’ve just settled down and got comfortable, with a glass of bubbly at your elbow, can soon get onerous and irritating.

Always ask parents before posting photographs of small children online – they may well object. And be very careful about teenagers too – they are meticulous curators of their own image and may feel mortified if you post an image of them looking comically grumpy in a Christmas jumper and rumpled paper crown.

You might be thrilled with your Christmas booty and overjoyed by the fact that you’re spending the festive season in the bosom of a loving and affectionate family but spare a thought for the millions of people who are not in this lucky position and resist the temptation to post endless gloating updates about your fabulous Christmas online.

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