Planning a Socially Distanced Christmas: 11 Ideas for a Festive Holiday Season

Photo by Toni Cuenca on Unsplash

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere we go …

I love the holiday season, and yet Christmas has frequently been a difficult time to celebrate. So much of Christmas has become commercialized and more about receiving than giving. In the Pacific Northwest, it is a rainy and dark season. However, this year I’m looking forward to Christmas.

Many people are struggling with the idea of being excited about Christmas this year. We’ve just made our way through a challenging political season. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. There is an increase in health and safety measures in my home state to prevent the coronavirus spread. Numbers continue to rise across the country, and it’s hard to think about celebrating when we cannot observe the same way as we have in the past.

If we look at Christmas a little bit differently and incorporate some new and different activities into our Christmas celebrations, is it possible that we may enjoy this holiday as much? Maybe even more?

To that end, I’ve been brainstorming and thinking about ideas of how we can do Christmas differently, how we can celebrate and be festive while maintaining social distance. Here are some things that families could try this year.

Send holiday cards with photos.

You can have a formal photo taken or take some fun candid shots of your family members. Don’t forget to use the timer function on your camera so that you can be in the photos too.

You can order photo cards online at a photo company. If you don’t want to have cards printed, print out some inexpensive copies of your family members at your local pharmacy. They can be as serious or as silly as you would want. Include those in your holiday cards and send them to family and friends across the country.

Deck out the porch and front door.

Turn your front entry into a winter wonderland. Pull out all the lights, greenery, figurines, candy canes, and kitsch that you have stashed away in your stock of Christmas decorations. Wrap big packing boxes and put bows on them; stack them on the porch. We all know we have lots of extra boxes lying around since Amazon and other companies have been delivering directly to our doors for months now. Now’s the time to use some of the larger ones and decorate.

Challenge your neighbors to see who can be the most creative in decorating their porches and yard. To make it a real contest, choose a prize. For example, the winner receives home-baked cookies from other families.

Have a cookie exchange.

When I was a child, cookie swaps were quite the thing with my mother and her friends. They would each bake 12 dozen cookies and show up together. Everyone would take home 12 different dozen cookies made by the other women. We would see various cookies showing up on cookie plates as gifts to other families throughout the season. 

Bring back this tradition. Connect with several of your friends and agree to each bake a certain number of cookies for each household and drop them off. Place the cookies in a box, wrap them in plastic wrap, drop them on your friend’s doorstep and ring the bell and off you go – a socially distanced cookie exchange.

Plan a Christmas movie night.

Have everybody dressed in their flannel pajamas and cuddle up on the couch. Make sure to stock up on popcorn and hot chocolate, and any other treats that your family enjoys, and have a movie Christmas movie marathon.

Step it up a notch and invite one or more friends or family members to watch the same movies at their homes. In between movies, connect via video conferencing and talk about the movies and your favorite parts.

Create a family holiday playlist.

Have each member of your family identify two or three of their favorite Christmas songs. Then load all of these songs onto a single playlist that your family listens to whenever engaging and Christmas activities this season. Here are some pieces to consider: Luther Vandross’s “The Mistletoe Jam,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree,” or Home Free”s “Silent Night.”

Hit the road to see the lights.

Every year people love to decorate, and there are always areas of every town where there are homes that go a little bit beyond the norm. Gather the family in the car, crank up the Christmas music, and drive out and see the lights. Return home and enjoy you have some hot chocolate together.

Have a Christmas game night.

Encourage everyone to wear their favorite Christmas themed outfits. They could wear their Christmas pajamas, ugly sweater, Santa costume, or something glitzy with sequins and sparkles. Then gather together around the table to play a variety of games. Order a special Christmas themed game online or jazz up some family favorites like Sorry, Apples to Apples, or Pictionary with Christmas cookies and candy canes.

Bonus points if you take this family game night virtual. Video conference with friends or family in other locations who have also committed to wearing their holiday glam wear and play the same game together across the distance.

Write a story together.

Each evening before bed, gather the family together, and spend some time collaborating on a story together. The tale could be creative fiction where everybody adds a line or two to the story as it goes on. It could also be group journaling where the family writes about their experiences this holiday season or even this year. Make sure that everyone, even the littlest ones, has an opportunity to share their voice and their part of the story. 

Once the story is complete, add an illustration and print it out so that everyone can have a copy.

Throw a party.

By now, it’s clear that we are talking about a virtual party. Have a party via video conference. Plan an ugly sweater party and invite everybody you know to wear their ugliest holiday sweater. Have them gather around the camera with holiday snacks and play games that lend themselves to video calls. Try Christmas bingo, Trivial Pursuit, or Never Have I Ever.

Go Christmas caroling.

One of the beautiful things about Christmas caroling is that it is traditionally a socially distanced activity. Gather your family and stroll through the neighborhood and stop at the end of each neighbor’s driveway. Sing 2 to 3 Christmas carols before moving on with your neighbors, and Merry Christmas and share the chair.

Open Christmas gifts together.

There’s so much about Christmas that is not about gift-giving. However, there is something warm and cozy about and fun about gathering together on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning and sharing gifts. Set up a family video call with the friends and family members who are ordinary with you during the Christmas opening of presents. Take turns having your family members at home and family members far away from home, unwrapping gifts, sharing the experience with those close and far away.

Be creative and flexible.

At the end of the day, there are so many ways that we can continue to celebrate our lives, our holidays, and our traditions even if we’re not able to be in the same room with those we love. Spend some time preparing for the holidays thinking about what is essential for you and your family. What traditions do you need to adjust to being socially distanced? Which traditions can you suspend this year and replace it with a new way to celebrate or a new activity?

As we think about the holidays, let’s remember to celebrate our relationships and our lives together. And while this may be the first time we’ve ever had a video conference call with grandma and grandpa on Christmas, it may not have been the first Christmas that we didn’t spend with them in person. Let us be thankful for this gift of technology, which has allowed us in this pandemic to continue to connect with people in different ways.

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Seeking Health and Happiness One Day at a Time.

Marcy Berg is a writer and therapist living in the Pacific Northwest and exploring thoughts on mental health, wellness, and happiness. She can be found at Growing Through Life and Seeking Greener Pastures.

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