Connecting families for the holidays

Oct 8, 2009 at 3:18 p.m. ET

Keeping families connected for the holidays can be a challenge, especially when relatives live far away.

Mom and child on computer

When long distances and busy schedules interfere, connecting with your family during the holiday season can be difficult. A little technology and a few photos go a long way in bringing family members together for special occasions.

Invest in a webcam

Jennifer Kahler, a new mom with out-of-town family members, keeps in touch using her handy webcam. "My mom and dad have a chance to see their beautiful granddaughter every week," she says. During the holidays, she uses her webcam more often as different groups of family get together. "This keeps everyone feeling connected, even if they can't travel to see the rest of the family."

A webcam lets viewers share special events and activities. For instance, you can do a virtual gift opening session so Grandma can see her grandkids opening those special presents. Most webcams also feature the ability to capture a photo image, so they do double duty when creating photo gifts and photo holiday cards.

Share your photos

Wondering what you should buy for the aunt who lives across the country? Relatives love to display photos of family members, so why not send some holiday cheer in the form of an annual photo collage of the kids? Make it a tradition -- grandparents love to show off their families in the form of photos.

Not the best photographer? Don't worry: Many photo-sharing sites offer easy-to-use software features that allow you to color-correct, remove red-eye and resize photos in a flash. Some sites even allow you to add personalized text to the photo or a creative frame around the image. Photo refrigerator magnets and keychains keep the smiles close at hand throughout the year.

Make a care package

Although care packages are typically associated with family members serving in the military, they are also a great gift idea for out-of-town family members. Fill the care package with scents, tastes and sounds of home. Children can help decorate cookies for relatives and, of course, family photos are a great way to keep everyone updated on what's going on with the family. A preloaded music player filled with holiday music or favorite tunes is another great inclusion. And don't forget to personalize the packaging -- you can create your own photo stamps online and use them to mail the package.

Don't forget your friends

Your friends are an extension of your family. Make it a point to schedule some time with your girlfriends to unwind and relax during this busy holiday season. Kathy Roose, a vibrant mother of three, realizes the importance of staying connected with friends: "Every year around the holidays, I have an ornament exchange with my best friend of 30 years." Each year, they add unique ornaments to each other's collections while keeping a treasured holiday tradition alive. Many sites offer ornaments with photos, engraving or other personalization.

More holiday ideas: