Some of the comments and thoughts developing from last week’s discussions about exchanging cards and gifts, led me to want to look more closely at how we can use online technologies to keep in touch around special times of year.

For many of us living as expats in Spain means that we are away from some of the family and friends that we might have spent holidays like Christmas with traditionally, and even if they are not people we miss close contact with the rest of the year there is something about the festive season that makes the distance feel greater.  And for others, one partner has to work away from Spain for long periods of time, which is hard on everyone concerned.

Luckily, the online world gives us many more options than in the past for keeping in touch with those we are not close to geographically this Christmas.

For example, why not upload a special collection of photos or videos, to share on Christmas day?  It might be pushing it to get hardcopy prints sent on (though you could promise a surprise in the post for new year), but there are loads of hosting services that will let you create and share your own photo story.  Places like Photobox or Picasa are excellent, if you do later want to print and post your creations in the UK, and there are lots of others.  Use captions to tell the story, you can create a montage of your life in Spain to give your friends and family back home a real flavour of your year

Remember that a digital image doesn’t have to be a photograph.  We often scan special pieces of the children’s artwork, it means we can keep them forever when the fridge door gets too full up, but they can also be shared with other people to enjoy too.  How about if they drew a special picture of themselves with Grandma?  These treasures are priceless, and whatever I said about readymade greetings cards last week does not apply to the wonderful handmade creations our children produce – which often last longer electronically.  3D art and technologia projects can be recorded digitally as well, and subsequently distributed without fear of Correos losing or breaking them.  Older children might enjoy sharing copies of their school reports, with or without accompanying translation – depending on how good the report is!

If your digital camera also records video, why not get the children to record a special message for grandma or anyone else they won’t see in person?  Kids are often a lot less self-conscious about this than grown-ups, and will cheerfully prattle on for ages about whatever they think she might need to know… perhaps have some questions and prompts ready.   Are there special Christmas songs from school they could share?  If grandma is not online, all you need is a relative on the ground to help you out and burn them all onto a DVD for her (hoping that grandma has a DVD player – if not your relative can take their laptop when they go round for Christmas dinner, give them an excuse to check their emails anyway).

Of course if your relatives back home are fully online then what better way to connect than with a video call!  Facetime on the mac and Skype on just about any device are completely free, all you need is a bit of broadband (even Spanish broadband).  For a small fee you can even get a Skype Pro account and do group video calling, although this is very demanding on bandwidth and quality suffers accordingly if there are a lot of you in the call.

Remember that these services are free at the point of use, for any duration, across any distance.  It’s funny, older relatives in particular often have real trouble accepting that, and feel a need to rush through what they wanted to say to you, before the pips go!  But if you can get everyone to relax around the idea you can simply leave the video window open, let them watch and share whilst the children open their stockings, and show off all their new swag, or you both open bottles of fizz simultaneously and drink one another’s good health.

On a video call its hard to get the same quality of sound that you do on a normal phonecall, so it’s good to make time to pick up the phone as well – always making sure you don’t clash with the turkey or the Queen or whatever else people are planning their day around.  Some of us remember the days when you had to book in long distance calls with the operator for popular days like Christmas, but now its very easy to pick up the phone and for a surprisingly low cost be able to tell those we love that we are thinking of them on this special family day.

Wherever and however you are celebrating, everyone at Costa Connected and Casslar Consulting SL wish you a wonderful break, and hope you are able to stay firmly in touch with everyone you love.

Published in Costa Blanca News, 21st December 2012

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