The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear; but it’s probably the best way to spread COVID-19 too.

As such, people are presented with a difficult choice this year: are they “Driving Home for Christmas”, or spending it Home Alone

Using our Core survey and Zeitgeist research fielded in November, we answer the following questions:

  • How are people planning to celebrate the holidays?
  • Will virtual meetups accommodate celebration behaviors?
  • How are people planning to stay safe throughout the festive season?

1. People are planning intimate celebrations.

Celebrations are – for the most part – going to be quieter this year; and while this is apparent in both the U.S. and UK, UK respondents are noticeably more inclined to spend it with their immediate households than their U.S. counterparts.

The key difference between these two markets are the current guidelines and the varying levels of freedom they offer.

In the UK, a greater emphasis on intimate celebrations is likely a response to long-standing government restrictions. 

The arrival of a reimagined three tier system offers hope of a Christmas Day respite. But for the time being, company is limited to “support bubbles” only, meaning holiday celebrations are unlikely to extend beyond the home.

In the U.S, however, people live under very different guidelines; confident they’ll be spending the holidays with other households.

But cases continue to climb, with California now under a strict new lockdown; travel this Christmas may become a lot more difficult.

As UK students are hurriedly sent home ahead of the holidays, some U.S. families will be making a difficult choice about traveling home; with Christmas travel restrictions a possibility after 9 million people took to the skies this Thanksgiving.

There’s time for attitudes to change, but many already have their minds made up; Christmas this year is likely to be a quiet affair.

2. Dreaming of a wired Christmas.

Video conferencing tools became a lifeline for those in lockdown during the early stages of the pandemic, and as time went on it became clear these habits would stick:

In July, 22% of UK and U.S. internet users said they’ll use video conferencing platforms more frequently after the outbreak is over.

Since then, those celebrating the holidays are already making plans to incorporate these tools into their festivities.

Among those celebrating with others outside their immediate household, 30% in the UK and U.S. will be using a mix of both virtual and in-person methods to achieve this.

Celebrating in-person is still a priority, but apps like Zoom will have a seat at the table for many.

We’ve learned a lot about the potential of virtual conference tools this year; people are opting more for features that promote interaction, entertainment and fun.

Take the Houseparty app for example. Surpassing 50 million sign ups in April, the breakout app pushed internet users to interact with mini-games, randomly join open chat rooms, or play with filters to enhance their experience.

Alternatively, with many confined to their homes this year, TV services are likely to benefit from people using virtual tools to recreate that Christmas Day viewing experience.

In the past 3 months, 27% of UK and U.S. internet users, celebrating using virtual tools, say they co-watched online TV with their friends. 

Whether through Netflix parties or otherwise, synchronized TV viewing has been another 2020 staple. With our research showing those celebrating virtually this year already have experience with it, use of these features during one of the biggest dates in the TV calendar is likely.

The big day’s just around the corner, but there’s still a big audience of people relying on software to prop up their celebrations. 

With searches for “virtual Christmas tips” skyrocketing, there’s a lot at stake in becoming a seasonal fixture this year, and a lot to be gained by getting in front of consumers already. Some well-timed messaging online could make all the difference.

3. Baby it’s safer outside.

Where people are meeting up in-person, safety’s still a concern, and such meetups are likely to come with a few caveats.

47% of those celebrating in-person will clean surfaces more regularly, while 38% intend to implement a form of social distancing. 

Even stricter measures such as mask-wearing and avoiding close physical contact are being considered – but this largely depends on who people are planning on seeing. 

Regular cleaning and social distancing are certain to be the standard, regardless of who’s meeting who. But people in the UK and U.S. are more concerned with preserving some normality this Christmas with their nearest and dearest.

Those meeting with immediate family, for example, are hoping the basics – cleaning and distancing – will mean less reliance on mask-wearing or moving the festivities outdoors.

In turn, friends and extended family are more likely to meet outdoors, wear masks or restrict physical contact.

Businesses should note how people are preparing for caution this season, particularly in the UK, where the hard-hit hospitality industry anxiously awaits alterations to existing guidelines.

Should these businesses receive a “go-ahead” order, attention should be drawn to existing safety precautions. Those meeting with friends this Christmas likely plan on keeping their distance, wearing masks or staying outdoors

Leave 2020 behind – not the lessons learned.

Following a quiet Christmas period, people in the UK and U.S. are divided about how to ring in the new year. 40% of those celebrating Christmas don’t intend to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

But it’s by no means forgotten, and internet users are still counting on waving this turbulent year goodbye.

45% of people in the UK and U.S. who will celebrate New Year’s Eve this year intend to do so in-person.

Virtual methods are no less prominent. Figures for using either a virtual-only method or mixing it with in-person celebrations are near equal (27% vs 29% respectively).

But contrary to what we saw at Christmas, the U.S. are the ones taking this celebration more cautiously. Not only are UK respondents more likely to celebrate in-person, but they’re also less inclined to use virtual methods than their U.S. counterparts.

With the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine having been rolled out in the UK from early December, optimistic individuals are likely banking on New Year’s marking a turning point in the fight against COVID-19.

But now is not the time to get complacent; there’s no sign yet that New Year’s will look any different to Christmas. What we do know is how the impact of shifting behaviors this holiday season will impact big calendar events in the future:

  • Virtual tools will keep adapting. A mainstay of most activities, events and celebrations this year, video-conferencing is here to stay. This affects a variety of popular activities, as group watching, gaming and live events will likely continue opting for ways to enhance the experience through virtual tools.
  • Safety and caution won’t be cast aside. With even close family and friends taking strict safety precautions this Christmas, many have come to accept the importance of safe, clean environments – and these expectations will stretch to businesses for the long term.
  • Celebrations are going to look a lot different. The FOMO might be treatable with virtual tools, but agoraphobia will prove a more challenging foe. Party-goers will probably think twice this coming year, as they consider all options available to them before RSVPing. 
Click to access our connecting the dots 2021 report

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