Go all out on decorations, invent your own games and lottery or try a video festive breakfast. Lisa Salmon reports.

Through the dark days of winter and pandemic restrictions, Christmas has been the one glittering light on the horizon for many families. But while the festive season will still (hopefully) be bright and cheerful, it will undoubtedly be different this year.

New research has found that while 71 per cent of families are planning smaller gatherings this Christmas, more than half (53 per cent) are hoping the celebrations will be more special than ever, and 62 per cent are intending to put a greater emphasis on festive family traditions - with a good helping of tech thrown in to include as many family members as possible.

Ryan Lowe, a child and adolescent psychotherapist at the Association of Child Psychotherapists (childpsychotherapy.org.uk), advises: "Include the children in the planning - kids have such innovative minds and you can use them to help find some creative ways of doing things differently."

And mother-of-six Rachaele Hambleton, aka parenting blogger Part-Time Working Mummy, says: "Despite Christmas looking a little different this year, many people are still looking forward to it and will be embracing new things.

"We usually have lots of family over on the day but this year it'll just be us - however that's still quite a few of us with lots of varying diets, so I have a few hacks up my sleeve to help the day run smoothly, and to ensure we spend as much quality time together as a family as possible."

Here are the trio's tips for a fun-filled but different family Christmas...

1. Get creative with your decorations

There's never been a better excuse to go mad with your Christmas decorations, says Lowe. So if they're already up, see if you can add a few more everywhere, and if you've still not done them, make sure that when they do go up they're bigger and brighter than ever before to cheer the whole household up after such a miserable year.

"As Christmas is likely to be spent mostly at home this year, you can go to town on the decorations and make the house feel really festive," says Lowe.

2. Make a Christmas lottery

In the build-up to the big day, try creating a Christmas lottery with your children, suggests Hankinson. Write down activities like baking and building gingerbread houses, watching a festive film and making festive ornaments on bits of paper, fold them up and choose a new surprise each day to do together as a family, in the run-up to Christmas Day.

"Remember when you were a child and how excited you'd get over the smallest things? Adopt this attitude and you're guaranteed to have a magical day," she promises.

3. Have a festive video breakfast

Create new traditions and invite family and friends to enjoy a festive breakfast over a video call, on Christmas Day, suggests Hankinson. "This could also be the perfect moment to open some presents," she suggests.

4. Enjoy quality (Face) time

"This year, we're getting creative when it comes to bringing the family together," says Hambleton. "Though certain relatives won't be able to celebrate with us physically, we won't let that get in the way of sharing special moments together.

"We'll be using FaceTime to ensure relatives don't miss out on any of the Christmas morning fun, and we'll likely do the same during dinner too. Christmas is all about quality time and we're making sure to maintain that, despite the circumstances."

5. Play games with friends and family even if they're in another house

Play board games, or make a family board game together, adding in elements or questions that are only relevant to the players, suggests Lowe.

"You could send other families and friends the same board or card games you're buying or making for your own kids, then you can play the games over video link if you're not able to see them face-to-face this year," she suggests.

6. Get savvy with the veg

All this video linking takes time, so make sure you save precious minutes elsewhere - particularly with your meal prep, advises Hambleton. She says that she, like 13% of families surveyed by McCain, boils all the veg in the morning and then covers it with food wrap straight away.

"This means when it's almost time to serve dinner, we don't have the panic of ensuring all our vegetables are cooked at the right times or over boiled or undercooked," she says. "Because it's prepared ahead of time, it's simply a matter of quickly microwaving them before serving, then finishing off with a dollop of butter and some black pepper. They taste just as fresh and are really delicious."

7. Look forward to the future

Lowe says it's important to remember that after such a bad year for the whole world, the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme means 2021 could be much better.

"The vaccines may make it possible to slowly think about seeing loved ones again and you can plan who you're going to see and what you'll do with them," she says. "You can play family dinner games that include questions like 'What's the thing you miss most about life before the pandemic?' and 'What's the first thing you'll do when all the restrictions are over?'"

Rachaele Hambleton is working with McCain as part of their Nation's Conversations research series.