Passover, Easter and Ramadan are within weeks of each other and often mean celebratory family gatherings.

While COVID-19 has forced society into a "new normal" we also face a new challenge: How do we gather without physically gathering? Anne Fishel, PhD, director of the Family and Couples Therapy Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and executive director and co-founder of Mass General Psychiatry Academy’s Family Dinner Project, offers guidance to help foster a “new gather.”

1. Have a clear beginning and endpoint to the celebration. A virtual gathering has no organic start, so you’ll need to determine a definitive way to begin and end your virtual holiday. A couple ways to do this include:

  1. Having the host start with a story, a song or a prayer
  2. Ask everyone to share a memory of a previous holiday
  3. Plan a show-and-tell about where each person is sitting and what foods you made
  4. Include a twist to the guest list and expand your invite to distant family members and friends. With no seating limitations, you can invite more people this year—even family members who live on the other side of the country can join

When you set up the gathering, choose a time frame for the virtual gathering—60 minutes or less is suggested. If people want to linger, that is great. But remember: a typical family dinner is only about 20 minutes and it’s hard to keep focus on a screen for more than an hour.

2. Embrace the disruption. While this holiday celebration will feel different, remember you are having a ritual which offers a sense of stability and continuity during these uncertain times.

You may not be able to make the usual holiday foods, so you can suggest everyone try to make one course the same and share their recipes. Or, for a modified “Iron Chef” experience, ask family members to incorporate the same two or three ingredients in some way over the course of the meal.

You may also want to add some games to the festivities, like charades or "two truths and a tall tale." Games help to keep people of all ages engaged with one other.

3. Focus on what is most meaningful to you and your family about this holiday. For some families, the holidays are about stories and ritual from one generation to the other, so you might want to share photos, ceremonial objects and tell stories about other times in your family history when holidays were disrupted.

If it’s mainly about the food, you might ask everyone to share their favorite holiday recipes so that you have a family compilation that can be added to in future years.

For more tips and ideas about hosting a virtual gathering, check out this guide from The Family Dinner Project.